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Marengo Academy clocks Clarke Prep in playoff tune-up

LINDEN — In a game that was all but over after the first inning, Marengo Academy (20-10) honored its outgoing seniors and closed its regular season in style with a 15-1 win over Clarke Prep Tuesday.

“Today, we didn’t miss many opportunities,” Marengo Academy head coach Jonathan Lindsey said. “I’ve been preaching about that the last couple weeks. But today, they did a good job.”

Clarke Prep struck first, getting a one-out single in the game’s opening frame. The Gators moved the runner over to third before a passed ball allowed him to score. The 1-0 lead was the only real blemish on Longhorn pitching in the contest.

In the home half of the inning, control problems set in early for the Gators. Weldon Fultz and Matt Etheridge opened the bottom of the first by getting plunked. Wood Collins followed with an RBI single that plated Fultz. Chris Sammons then served as the third hit batsman of the inning to load the bases again. Matt Wallace and Michael Martin hit successive sacrifice fly balls to pick up an RBI each, scoring Etheridge and Collins respectively and give the Longhorns a 3-1 lead.

Walks to Chase Smyly and Jacob Dunn loaded the bases again, setting the stage for Rabe Hale. The junior second baseman stroked the first pitch he saw into left field for a two-RBI double that scored Sammons and Smyly. With the Longhorns up 5-0, Fultz, a senior, stepped up to the plate for the second time in the inning.

In a game that was meant to honor him and classmates Collins and Martin, Fultz took full advantage. He blasted a three run shot over the left field fence to give the Horns an 8-1 lead.

“This group really set the tone for our program,” Lindsey said of the departing senior trio. “They’ve set the bar high the last couple years.”

That would be all the Longhorns would need, but the Class AA, Region 2 champs added more anyway, scoring one in the second, one in the third and five in the fourth.

That offensive effort was more than enough for a pitching staff that saw Dunn, Martin and Jamey Clements combine to allow only three hits and strike out seven batters over five innings of work.

Fultz also walked in the game, finishing 1-for-1 on the day with three RBIs on the home run. Etheridge scored a run. Collins was 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Sammons scored two runs. Wallace was 1-for-2 with a double, a run and an RBI. Martin went 1-for-3 with a run and three RBIs. Smyly scored two runs while Dunn scored one. Hale was 1-for-2 with a double, two RBIs and three runs scored. Kevin Pritchett doubled in a run in his lone plate appearance while Parrish Pugh went 1-for-1 in his only at-bat of the game.

The win wraps up the Longhorn regular season and sends them headlong into a first round playoff match-up with Lakeside Friday. Lindsey said he was pleased with the way his team wrapped up the campaign.

“We made all the plays defensively,” Lindsey said. “We played an errorless ball game. We had good at-bats one through nine.”

As his squad looks to outperform a 2009 playoff run that ended with a loss to Edgewood in the semi-finals, Lindsey is confident in what the Longhorns bring to the table.

“When it comes down to these guys stepping it up for big games, they’ve done a good job of it,” Lindsey said. “This year, this team is playing like a team.”

As the Longhorns head for the postseason, they rest their optimism heavily on the arms of their pitching staff, a group that features Wallace, Collins and Dunn in starting roles with Clements and Martin having shown considerable success in relief.

“I definitely think we’re deeper this year,” Lindsey said of a rotation that may boast the best depth of his tenure with the program. “This year, I really don’t have a No. 1 (starter). But most of these guys, they are going to get out there and throw strikes.”

The Longhorns will host Lakeside in a double-header Friday beginning a 2 p.m. Should a third game be needed, it will take place Saturday.