By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
NEW MARKET -- Clarke County rallied for a dramatic win over Stonewall Jackson on Saturday night.
The Eagles scored two runs with two outs in the top of the seventh and scored two more in the eighth for a 4-3 non-district baseball victory over the Generals.
The game, which started as a pitchers' duel, ended with a flurry of offense. The game went into extra innings after an apparent game-ending third strike was called a ball, and ended with a collision at home plate.
"I was very impressed with our ability to fight back," Eagles coach Jon Novick said. "Up to the last out of the game, we were fighting our way back in there. We didn't hit very well in the beginning, but we came around there at the end, when we needed to. We made hits when it mattered."
Stonewall Jackson junior Ryan Henschel mixed an effective curveball and changeup with his fastball to open with six shutout innings.
Clarke County's Ethan Emmart started on the mound for the Eagles and played his role in the pitchers' duel. In the fourth he walked Josh Litten, who would later steal second and score on an Alex Collins (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) single to left.
In the sixth inning, Emmart lost his sharpness and his split-finger mover was less effective.
"I started off good, I just got up to a big pitch count and I got tired -- that's expected," Emmart said.
With two outs, the Generals (6-3) zeroed in on right field, where Josh Litten, Jacob Mace and Collins sent three successive singles, with Collins picking up his second RBI when Litten crossed the plate for a 2-0 lead.
Sergio Martinez walked to load the bases, but Emmart got Anthony Peacher to hit a grounder to shortstop to force out Martinez and end the rally.
Storm clouds gathered for the Generals in the top of the seventh when the Eagles (4-4) needed only one hit to score twice and send the game into extra innings.
Henschel started the frame in good form, striking out Emmart, then Vernon Mathews hit a routine grounder to second that second baseman Josh Montalbano threw into the Eagles' dugout, putting Mathews on second base. One out later Austin Jackson took Henschel to a full count.
Henschel then threw one of his best-looking pitches of the game for an apparent game-ending third strike. The Generals began to walk off the field and their fans cheered.
But, with the only view of the pitch that mattered, the home plate umpire called it a ball. Then the storm clouds broke open on the Generals.
Henschel walked Grant Moon to load the bases. Levi Hagerdon then hit a two-run single to tie the game at 2-2.
Martinez then relieved Henschel (four hits, two runs, one earned, 10 Ks, two walks) and got Mark Unger on a first pitch come-backer to the mound to retire the side.
The drama continued in the bottom of the seventh, as the Generals mounted a big threat without the benefit of a hit.
Drew Paice relieved Emmart on the mound. Woody Kerlin reached base and was then forced out at second on a fielder's choice by Jake Montalban, who later stole second. Then, Matt Litten struck out on a passed ball, also reaching first safely while Montalban took third.
With Jared Getz at the plate, Paice uncorked a wild pitch. Montalban started toward home, hesitated, the took off again, but was out as Jackson tossed the ball to Paice for a tag-out at the plate.
Getz and Josh Litten were intentionally walked to fill the bases. Mace then popped out to Paice and the Generals left the bases loaded, sending the game into extra innings.
In the top of the eighth, Martinez walked Smoot and Paice. Smoot stole second and continued to third as Kerlin threw across the uncovered bag. Then Paice stole second.
Emmart came to the plate and accomplished what he couldn't do on the mound, smashing a solid line-drive to center, driving in Smoot and Paice to go up 4-2 with the go-ahead, and eventual game-winning, runs.
"I just looked for my pitch, and just threw my hands out," Emmart said. "I wasn't trying to hit anything fancy, just a base hit to the outfield, and Jesse [Smoot] could tag and score."
In the bottom of the frame, Paice got Collins to ground out, then gifted the Generals with free passes to Martinez and Peacher. Each stole the next base.
After Henschel re-entered and struck out, Montalban picked up another free pass, loading the bases.
Unger relieved Paice on the mound and faced Matt Litten, who hit to left for a single, driving in Martinez with the Generals' third run.
Stanley Paice's throw to the plate was off-line and high, taking catcher Jackson a few feet behind the plate.
Peacher collided Jackson in the attempted plate block. Both players ended up on the ground, as did the baseball.
But, rather than counting as the tying run, it was the final out as Peacher was ruled to have violated the catcher safety rule by not attempting to slide.
For the Generals, the energy and focus of a tightly fought contest were instantly transformed into a mix of shock, disbelief, disappointment, and concern for Jackson.
"I just don't know what to say," Generals coach Morgan Saeler said. "I'm mad, frustrated, and a bit in shock. Ryan [Henschel] made one of his best pitches and it's called a ball, and that changed everything.
"We've been looking for our hitting to come around, and it finally did. We put some hits together when we needed to. And, still, it got away from us. Both kids were diving for the plate on that last out, so it's tough to call the catcher safety rule. I've never seen a game like this one and hope I don't see another one."
For the Eagles, the joy of holding on for a win was dampened by concern over Jackson, who lay flat on his back just to the third base side of the plate he so courageously guarded.
A few minutes later, Jackson had speech and movement and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.