• 77°

Marengo Academy advances to AISA title game

LINDEN &8212; While they had produced 37 runs over their previous three outings, it was pitching which told the tale in the Longhorns&8217; two-game sweep of Springwood Academy Wednesday afternoon. Marengo Academy took game one of the double-dip 4-0 before rallying late to take the backend of the set 4-3.

The Longhorns jumped on top early in the series opener, scoring two runs in the first on a Chris Whitaker homerun. Whitaker remained hot in his next at-bat, stroking a ground-ruled double in the fourth inning. Clayton Crocker followed with a walk. Sophomore Wood Collins then doubled the Longhorn lead with a two-run double.

Game one starter Phillip Farmer was good enough to make the lead stand up, scattering five hits, walking one and striking out nine while picking up the win for his seven innings of work.

The second game opened in similar fashion with the Longhorns scoring two runs in the first inning. Freshman Rabe Hale and Farmer drew consecutive walks to open the game before Crocker dropped down a sacrifice bunt to plate Hale. The pitcher&8217;s throw to first on the play allowed Farmer, who was running before the release of the ball, to score.

The Tigers added to the lead in the top of the second inning when three straight walks allowed left Sha Hale in position to score from third on a wild pitch. His run proved to be the last the Longhorns would score until the eighth inning.

Crocker struck out two batters in each of the first three innings despite frequently falling behind in the count. The junior surrendered a leadoff double in the second inning. Two batters later, an error allowed the run to score.

From there, the Wildcats gradually chipped away at the Marengo lead, relying on solo homeruns in the fifth and sixth innings to tie the game.

The Longhorns found themselves in dire straits in the bottom of the seventh as a leadoff double put the potential Wildcat winning run in scoring position. Crocker quickly induced a towering fly ball to right field, which Whitaker handled and fired back into the infield before the runner could advance. With one away, Crocker&8217;s defense came up big for him again as Farmer caught a fly ball in center, loaded up and gunned down the Springwood runner at third to get the double play and end the scoring threat.

In the top of the eighth, Collins stroked a one-out single to set the table for the Longhorns. Two batters later, Trace Stentz, who had entered the game as a replacement for designated hitter Michael Martin in the fourth inning, ripped an RBI-double to left-center field to score Collins and put Marengo Academy on top.

The at-bat came as no surprise to Lindsey, who expressed in confidence in the junior.

Stentz agreed with Lindsey&8217;s perspective on the at-bat, admitting the hit was the biggest he has ever recorded.

Crocker appeared strong in the eighth inning, striking out one and inducing two ground balls to end the game. The junior starter pitched the full eight innings, striking out 12 batters and scattering six hits while picking up the win.

Fighting seems an apt description of what Crocker put together Wednesday. Despite battling location issues throughout the game, Crocker consistently found ways to keep hitters off balance and, subsequently, off the base paths.

The win sets the Longhorns up for a return trip to Paterson Field in Montgomery next week. They will play the winner of the series between Southern Academy and Lakeside Academy Tuesday. Game two of that series will be Wednesday, as will game three if it is necessary.

If the Longhorns are to go beyond the level they reached last season, they will likely need tot correct the few mistakes they have made during the postseason.