MA moves one step closer to repeat

Published 11:37 pm Friday, April 24, 2009

LINDEN — Marengo Academy (19-9) had to rally late to win game one of their first round playoff series with Springwood 8-7 Friday night before being forced to hold on in the seventh to preserve an 11-10 victory in game two.

It took late-inning theatrics, but the Longhorns rallied from five runs back in the seventh before finishing their comeback in the eighth to take game one from Springwood 8-7 Friday.

Chris Whitaker appeared to have ignited the Longhorns on the first pitch MA saw in the game when he stroked a home run to hand his team the 1-0 lead. The spark proved to be short-lived as the MA bats fizzled for the next four innings.

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Springwood countered in the third inning when Rory Spurlock belted a three-run shot to hand SA the 3-1 lead. The Wildcats added to their lead in the fourth, loading the bases with no one out before Dilan Tompkins and Spurlock each hit sacrifice flies to score Cole Buchanan and Jake Jenkins respectively. SA added one more when Jake Key scored from third on a passed ball to hand the Wildcats the 6-1 lead.

With the game seemingly in cruise control, SA kicked a routine grounder to allow Trevor Johnson to reach safely. The sophomore proceeded to swipe a pair of bases before coming in to score on a passed ball, cutting the SA lead to 6-2.

Marengo allowed one more run in the seventh when Jenkins hit an RBI single to score Brandon Shierling.

“Coming into that seventh inning, I told them to never give up. They came in and really took care of business that seventh inning,” MA head coach Jonathan Lindsey said.

Leading 7-2 and only three outs away from taking game one of the series, Wildcat hurlers proceeded to miss the strike zone repeatedly, walking the first two batters of the inning before giving up an RBI single to Clayton Crocker that scored Weldon Fultz from second. After Wood Collins drew a walk, Whitaker cut the game to 7-4 when Michael Martin absorbed an errant pitch with the bases loaded. Johnson then picked up an RBI when he drew a walk that forced Crocker in to cut the lead to 7-5. Jesse Morgan provided the big blow of the inning, ripping a two-run double to tie the game. The Longhorn threat fizzled with the bases loaded as Springwood rebounded to force extra innings.

The key moment in the top of the eighth came with a runner on first and only one out. Kyle Schroeder fielded a groundball and flipped to shortstop Matt Wallace, who appeared to tag the bag as he reached to pull the ball from his glove in an effort to turn a double play. An instant later, the Springwood runner slipped outside the second base line, forcing a collision that left Wallace on the infield and the baseball on the ground.

“It was huge,” Lindsey said of the moment in which his sophomore shortstop showed tenacity in his willingness to follow through with the play despite the impending contact. “He’s that good of a player to be able to just have the awareness to do something like that.”

The umpire closest to the play noted the loose ball and ruled the runner safe. The call drew the ire of the Longhorn dugout, drawing head coach Jonathan Lindsey onto the field for a contentious discussion. Lindsey was quickly relieved as the first base umpire overruled the call on the field, ruling obstruction on a call that put MA back at the plate.

In the home half of the inning, Collins stroked a one-out double, scoring the game-winning run one batter later when Martin stroked an RBI single.

“He’s come up big all year and he’s starting to hit the ball very well,” Lindsey said of Martin. “And right now, with him being hot, I want him to be in the cleanup spot.”

Martin, who entered the game to start the fifth inning, allowed only three hits over four innings of work, allowing only one run while striking out five to pick up the win.

In game two, the the Longhorns struck early, plating Collins on a Martin single in the first inning. Two batters later, Clayton Crocker rocked a ball down the right field line to put MA up 4-0.

The Longhorns padded that lead in the third and fourth innings, plating Chris Sammons on a Crocker double in the third before Beau Digmon utilized a series of errors to score without any assistance.

Then the MA pitching staff went cold, missing spot after spot while walking the bases loaded. The control issues in the fifth led to a pitching change and a three-run Wildcat rally, cutting the tally to 6-3. Springwood added two more in the fifth when Jake Jenkins blasted a 2-RBI shot.

“Our kids played extremely well,” Lindsey said. “Springwood played extremely well.”

Marengo responded in the sixth, adding five runs on five hits. Whitaker belted his second home run of the day, plating Schroeder and Digmon. Two batters later, Collins doubled in Johnson before coming around to score on an infield error.

With an 11-6 lead, all appearances indicated the Longhorns had the game on ice before the team again struggled with a batch of control problems. MA hurlers loaded the bases and walked in a run before working to a bases loaded, two out situation with Key at the plate. The Wildcat slugger wasted little time picking out a pitch and depositing it well beyond right field for a grand slam to cut the game to 11-10. After giving up a double, Martin then dug in to retire the final batter and leave the potential tying run stranded at second base.

The win advances Marengo Academy to face the winner of the Edgewood and Lowndes Academy series.