By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- With Covington leading Winchester by three runs with two out in the top of the sixth inning, Lumberjacks cleanup hitter Mike Martinez launched a towering grand slam home run over the center-field fence to propel Covington to an 11-5 win on Friday in Valley League baseball.
"When I got up to the plate, I was only thinking about trying to get a couple of guys in and help our team," Martinez said. "I just found one that I thought that I could hit well, and it ended up going over the fence. It's always nice to hit a grand slam."
Martinez is making a habit of that rare feat in baseball. This was his second in Valley League play, and his third this year.
The win extends the Lumberjacks' winning streak to four straight, and moves them to 5-5 in Valley League play. For the Royals, who entered the game in a tie for first and on three-game winning streak of their own, it is now a case of finding the right pitchers heading into the critical month of July.
Kyle Clark, Winchester's starter, struggled from the very beginning of the game, giving up four hits and two runs in the top of the first. He took the loss for the Royals, allowing six runs on nine hits. The Michigan freshman struck out three without a walk.
"Well, we're searching for pitching right now," Royals manager John Lowery said. "It was Kyle's turn to start, and he put the ball in the middle of the plate and they hit them. That's just the way it goes sometimes. I thought that we actually hit the ball pretty well, too. In this league, five or six runs should win you a game. But when Martinez hit that grand slam, that kind of sealed our fate."
Although Winchester began the game in a hole, the Royals were able to come back in the second inning to take 3-2 lead thanks to a two-run homer by catcher J. D. Wallace.
"He gave me a changeup up in the strike zone, and I put it out of the park," Wallace said. "But that doesn't mean a thing because we didn't win the ball game. Hopefully, we can get past this and come out tomorrow and get a win."
That lead, however, proved to be short-lived as the Lumberjacks exploded for another five hits and four runs in the third to jump ahead, 6-3. They added another run in the fourth to extend their lead to 7-4.
Covington's success in the fourth inning sent Clark to the dugout in favor of reliever Matt Faiman. The Central Michigan junior had no better luck than Clark, giving up the grand slam to Martinez in the sixth.
Lumberjacks starter David Gibson got the win for Covington, allowing four runs on eight hits through five innings on the mound. He struck out seven and walked three.
"We're still sitting in a pretty good spot," Lowery said. "We were tied for first coming into this game, and we're going to be facing the teams we're up there with in the upcoming days. There's still a lot of games to be played yet."