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Longhorns take state

MONTGOMERY &8212; Marengo Academy defeated Southern Academy 5-1 and 7-6 Wednesday night at Paterson Field to win the AISA Class AA State Baseball Championship. The wins prevented the Longhorns from faltering in the final round for the second consecutive year.

Game two was a see-saw battle that saw four runs over the last two innings score as a direct result of a wild pitch or passed ball.

Trace Stenz appeared sharp until a leadoff walk burned him in the third inning. Charlie Baltzell drew the free pass, advanced to third on a Chad Milner single and swiped home as part of a double steal, giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead in the rubber game.

Milner, who swiped second at the other end of the twin theft, advanced to third on a fly ball to right and scored on a Jason Fondren base hit.

In the home half of the inning, the Longhorns appeared poised to waste a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation when the third and fourth hitters in the lineup grounded out and popped up respectively. With two strikes on Beau Digmon and the chances of a Longhorn breakthrough looking bleak, Southern starter Fondren fired a ball into the dirt that ricocheted past his catcher and all the way to the distant Paterson Field backstop. The fortuitous carom allowed Clayton Crocker to score from third and Phillip Farmer to trek the full 180 feet from second to tie the game.

After Rabe Hale drew a leadoff walk in the fourth inning, SA third baseman Roshan Hira ignited an unlikely 5-4-3 double play off a Sha Hale bunt attempt to clear the bases for nine-hole hitter Stenz. The left coaxed a two-out walk to keep the inning alive, giving way to courtesy runner Weldon Fultz. Crocker then came through in a big way yet again, stroking a double over the head of center fielder Christian Montz&8217; to plate Fultz and hand Marengo the lead. Crocker scored his second run of the contest when Farmer&8217;s seeing-eye single bounced past both middle infielders and into center, pushing the lead to 4-2.

Southern responded in the top of the fifth with two runs of its own when Coleman McClendon singled and John Kynard reached on an error to set the table Fondren, whose double made the game 4-4.

The game remained deadlocked until the top of the sixth when an error and two straight wild pitches put Southern&8217;s John Michael Cochran 90 feet from home plate with no one out. Marengo reliever Matt Wallace rallied to retire one batter before plunking Chad Milner to put runners on the corners with only one out. With the game appearing in dire straits, Longhorn coach Jonathan Lindsey called for a pitching change, handing the ball to Farmer, who was rocked for eight runs and unceremoniously ejected from the series&8217; first game.

The senior fanned the first batter he faced and blew two strikes by Kynard before firing a ball to the backstop, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Farmer rebounded to finish off Kynard with the strikeout and end the inning.

In the back end of the sixth, Farmer gained a measure of redemption when his two-out single to right plated Kyle Schroeder who pinch ran for Sha Hale following a base knock. Fondren&8217;s next pitch found the dirt and squirted far enough away from Milner to allow Crocker to score the lead run from third, giving Marengo the 6-5 lead in the seventh.

Fondren sought and found his own redeeming moment in the top of the seventh, blasting a leadoff double off the left field wall. Two wild pitches from Farmer allowed Fondren to tie the game without another Cougar having to swing a bat.

Collins started the Longhorn half of the seventh with a single, moving to second on a passed ball. A pair of walks to Michael Martin and Sha Hale loaded the bases with two out for Weldon Fultz. The first pitch Fultz saw bounced away from Milner, allowing Collins to score from third and win the game. The sophomore earned Most Valuable Player recognition for his role in the victories.

In the night&8217;s first game, Crocker pitched seven innings, allowed only four hits and struck out five to anchor the Longhorns.

The junior also pieced together a 2-for-4 performance at the plate that included a run and an RBI. His single in the third inning plated Stenz who had reached on a double. Crocker scored when Cougar center fielder Montz dropped a fly ball off the bat of Chris Whitaker, giving MA a 2-0 lead.

Southern sliced the lead in half in the fourth inning, benefiting from a bobbled ball in left field that allowed Kynard to score from second.

The big blow of the game came in top of the sixth. With Whitaker on first, Wood Collins jumped on the first pitch he saw, sending it over the scoreboard in left field to push the lead to 4-1.

Marengo added another run that inning when Digmon scored from third on a double play.