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Longhorns down Generals to move to state title game

LINDEN — The Marengo Academy Longhorns are returning to the AISA state title game for the second time in two years after a 7-5 game three win over Autauga Academy Thursday. The victory came less than 24 hours after the Longhorns split a double-header with the Generals, taking game one 1-0 before dropping the nightcap 19-18 in eight innings.

In game three, the Longhorns turned to senior Michael Martin on the mound after using five pitchers to get through Wednesday’s second game. Martin was ejected during the first inning of game two of the series on a play in which he bowled over the catcher at the plate. Martin, who would have been relied upon to close out game two, called his shot after the loss, telling head coach Jonathan Lindsey that he would pitch the game of his life Thursday.

“I was up in the air on who was going to pitch,” Lindsey said of game three. “He came up and told me he wanted the ball and I knew right then he was the right choice.”

Martin validated his coach’s decision, using 109 pitches to toss seven strong innings while striking out five and picking up the complete game win.

“He’s been there,” Lindsey said of Martin, who struck out 6-foot-5 freshman O.J. Howard to end the game. “He has been on state championship teams before and he was going to give us everything he had and that’s what it would have taken.”

Marengo opened the scoring in the first inning when Weldon Fultz hit a leadoff home run. Matt Etheridge followed with a single and then stole second before moving up on a Wood Collins grounder. After a Chris Sammons walk, Matt Wallace stroked a two-RBI triple to move the lead to 3-0.

MA added to the lead in the third when Martin and Jamey Clements each singled to start the rally before Rabe Hale walked to load the bases. Fultz picked up another RBI when he walked to plate Martin. Clements later scored on an error to make it 5-0.

The Longhorns surrendered one each in the fourth and fifth frames before scoring without the benefit of contact in the bottom of the fifth. Hale struck out on what would have been the third out of the inning. A dropped third strike led AA to rush a throw to first that ended up in right field and allowed Hale to reach third. The next pitch caromed off the front corner of the plate and bounced high over the backstop, allowing Hale to score without a throw.

A Wallace RBI double in the sixth allowed Collins to score in the sixth. The Longhorns carried a 7-4 lead into the seventh inning when Autauga catcher Travis Jean homered for the third time in the series to cut the score to 7-5. The Generals then got a runner on to bring up Howard, the tying run, with two outs.

“They fought hard,” Lindsey said of the Generals. “They knew what they wanted. They had the same goal as we did.”

That resiliency was on display Thursday when the Generals went down 7-0 in the first inning. Six straight walks to start the game allowed Marengo to jump on top early before the Martin ejection. Chase Smyly then dropped down a suicide squeeze for an RBI before Hale launched a three-run homer.

But AA chipped away as Jean hit his first home run of the series with a solo shot in the first. The Generals followed with a run in the second before Allen Dawson his a two-run shot in the third to cut it to 7-4. Garrett Petrunic’s two-RBI triple in the fourth made it 7-6 before Fultz picked up an RBI single in the fifth to push the advantage to 8-6.

Cody Parrott erased the Longhorns advantage with a two-run single in the fifth before the Generals continued the onslaught, plating six in the frame to take a 12-8 lead.

Marengo overcame that deficit in the seventh when a Smyly pop-up was dropped to ignite a rally. Hale scored on a Collins RBI grounder that was booted before Chris Sammons launched a grand slam over the center field fends to put MA up 13-12.

But the Generals were not done as Jean hit his second round-triper of the game in the bottom of the inning to tie it again. The Longhorns then plated five in the inning off the strength of an Etheridge RBI single and a pair of two-RBI hits from Wallace and Clements. But the Longhorns’ heroics were not quite enough as Dawson extended the Generals’ season with a two-RBI walk-off single.

“I felt like we were the better team,” Lindsey said. “That game could have gone several different ways. But we had to pick our heads up and get ready to play.”

In game one, Etheridge singled and swiped a base in the first innings before coming around to score on a Collins RBI single. That proved to be enough for Matt Wallace, who pitched a complete game while walking three, surrendering two hits and striking out eight. That gives Wallace 16 strikeouts, three hits, three walks and no runs over 13 innings of work in the playoffs. Thursday, Wallace out-dueled Parrott, who scattered five hits and struck out two over six innings of work.

Thursday’s win sets the Longhorns up with a state championship date against Edgewood, the team that bounced them from the state semi-finals a season ago.

“No doubt in my mind we’ll be ready for an intense series because that is one of the most emotional series we’ve ever been a part of,” Lindsey said.