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Hale walk-off lifts Marengo over Monroe

LINDEN — It took eight innings to sort it out, but top-ranked Marengo Academy (10-3) beat No. 7 Monroe Academy 5-4 in the first game of a round robin triple-header Friday.

The decisive RBI came off the bat of second baseman Rabe Hale, who stroked a ball to deep left field to beat Monroe’s shift to plate Matt Wallace and end the game.

“Rabe hasn’t been hitting the ball all that well lately,” Marengo Academy head coach Jonathan Lindsey said. “I told him before he went up to bat he had to clear his head. For him to step up like that and come up with a walk-off hit is big. Maybe it will help his confidence.”

Wallace led off the inning with a single to deep center. The Monroe fielder was unable to come up with the ball cleanly, allowing Wallace to reach second. Kevin Pritchett followed with a sacrifice bunt to move Wallace to third and set up Hale’s walk-off opportunity.

With a runner on third and one out, the Monroe coaching staff called for a shift, bringing their center fielder into just in front of the second base bag and moving the corner outfielders to just a few feet behind the infield dirt.

On the next pitch, Hale lifted the ball to deep left, ending the game with little to no doubt.

“Open outfield is what I saw,” Hale said. “I was just trying to make contact, put it in play.”

Monroe forced extras in the top of the seventh when it erased a 4-1 deficit. The inning started with a leadoff single before Tanner Smith blasted a two-run shot over the left field fence to cut the score to 4-3. From there, the Longhorns turned to closer Michael Martin, who scattered three hits but was unable to keep Monroe at bay. Martin returned in the eighth to retire the side in order.

“That’s just him being a senior leader,” Lindsey said of Martin. “Things didn’t go his way his first inning, but for the last couple years he’s been our best guy out of the pen and he really stepped up for us today.”

Starting pitcher Jacob Dunn did not factor into the decision, but did put his team in position to win the game. After working his way into a bases loaded, one out jam in the first, Dunn wriggled off the hook without letting a run score. The sophomore then threw the game into cruise control, keeping the bases completely empty until the sixth inning when a leadoff error ended that streak. Two more errors in the inning enable Monroe to erase the shutout and get back into the game.

“For him to step up like that as a sophomore, first year in the program, he did an exceptional job today,” Lindsey said of Dunn, whose six innings of work proved big to a Longhorn pitching staff that was playing its fifth contest of a six-day, seven-game stretch. “That meant everything for him to go six (innings) late in the week because we’ve still got some quality arms to throw at Glenwood the next two games.”

“It mostly cam after that first inning when I got out of that jam,” Dunn said of his success. “When you have a defense like that behind you making all those plays, you get pumped to pitch.”

Marengo started its scoring in the second inning when catcher and cleanup hitter Chris Sammons hit a 1-2 pitch over the right field fence for an opposite field leadoff home run. The Longhorns plated two more runs in the fourth inning when Sammons hit an infield single and gave way to courtesy runner Justin Beverly. Kevin Pritchett made good on the opportunity when he came to the plate with two outs and blasted a two-run shot to straightaway centerfield on the only pitch he saw.

“A lot of our key guys who have been coming through in the past, they haven’t been hitting like they can. We’ve been talking all week about some other people picking the team up. I expect all our players to step up in key situations like that,” Lindsey said. “in the past few games, we’ve been cashing in on some opportunities.”

Marengo also scored a run in fifth inning when Wood Collins hit an RBI double that scored Weldon Fultz, who led the inning off with a walk and a stolen base.

Dunn allowed two runs and struck out five over his six innings of work. Fultz went 2-for-3 with a walk out of the leadoff spot in the lineup. Dunn put together a 2-for-4 day at the plate. Sammons went 2-for-3 with a walk and the solo home run.

The Longhorns played Glenwood Academy later Friday night and are scheduled to play the state’s second-ranked team again Saturday at 11 a.m. at Scott Park in Linden.