By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW MARKET -- Feeling brave today?
Ask Stonewall Jackson's Matt Litten whether or not he was safe at home plate during the bottom of sixth inning in Wednesday's baseball game against Shenandoah District rival East Rockingham.
Ask him today, ask him tomorrow, ask him a year from now -- if you can withstand the withering stare, you'll get the same seething response.
"I tucked my hand right between his legs and then that's when he caught the ball and spun me around," Litten said of his home-plate collision with Eagles catcher Hunter Hensley. "But I was in there well before the ball got to him."
Unfortunately for the Generals, the home-plate umpire saw it differently in what turned out to be the pivotal play in East Rockingham's wacky 9-8 victory at Rebel Park.
There was more to it than that play, to be sure, including a double play that was, then wasn't, and a pair of inspiring Stonewall Jackson rallies that never let East Rockingham (10-5, 7-2 Shenandoah) get too comfortable.
Down 5-3 heading into the bottom of the fifth, the Generals got a run back on Litten's RBI single to center. Colton Harlow followed with a ringing double to the right-center field gap, bringing home Casey Polhemus with the tying run.
Litten, starting from first base, was on his way home as well as the Eagles relayed the ball home. Second baseman Shannon Cross fired a dart to Hensley that arrived about the same time Litten plowed into the East Rockingham catcher and lunged for the plate. Instead of the go-ahead run, Litten was the final out of the inning.
"I really don't know if he was safe or not," Eagles coach David Scott said. "I know there was a collision at home plate and the catcher came up with the ball. Most of the time when that happens, it's an out."
Stonewall Jackson (2-12, 1-8) saw the momentum swing even more wildly the other way in the top of the sixth when Harlow, who battled command all day, walked leadoff batter Andrew Lam and allowed a bunt single to Ryan Dovel. Harlow then got Hensley to fly out and seemed to escape the jam when Cross lined out to Jared Getz at shortstop. Getz flipped the ball back to second to double up Lam, and the field umpire called him out just before the ball popped out of Trey Alger's glove.
After checking with the home-plate umpire after the Generals had left the field, the call was reversed and Lam declared safe at second.
"The teams were off the field, he still called him out -- it should have been the third out," Lenox said.
Given new life, the Eagles plated the go-ahead run when Ryan Kite reached on a throwing error.
Then in the top of the seventh, East Rockingham added three more runs for good measure as Dovel and Hensley delivered run-scoring singles and Kite drew a bases-loaded walk from Generals reliever Getz.
"A couple big ones went against us tonight," Lenox said. "I told the guys, 'Yeah, they hurt, but also we gave away some runs with a couple errors, a couple missed balls, walks.' We didn't really give ourselves the best opportunity to win. Sometimes you need a couple things to go your way.
"If both those calls go our way, it's probably a different game. But you can't look at it that way because you didn't give yourself a better opportunity."
The Generals did give themselves one last opportunity in the seventh. Litten led off with a single, then Harlow reached on a two-base error to put runners at second and third. Alger followed with a sharp liner straight up the middle to score both, and Stonewall Jackson was again within a run. Hensley, the fourth Eagles pitcher of the day, steadied after that and got Getz to ground into a fielder's choice for the final out.
The Eagles grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first as Harlow struggled to find the strike zone. Two walks put runners on for East Rockingham's Travis Lugar, who singled to drive in both.
An unearned run in the second made it 3-0, and a sloppy third inning by the Generals helped East Rockingham push two more runs across for a 5-0 lead.
Stonewall Jackson capitalized on Kite's wildness in the third. With two outs, Kite walked the bases loaded before turning it over to reliever Isaac Dean. Instead of relief, the Eagles got another walk as the Generals' Kory Somers drew a free pass to force in a run. Dean then hit Patrick Kerlin with a pitch with the bases loaded to force in another.
In the fourth, Getz crushed a pitch from Shifflett for an RBI triple that pulled the Generals to within 5-3.
Stonewall Jackson outhit the Eagles, 13-9, but committed five errors in the loss. Litten and Harlow had three hits apiece, and Alger added two for the Generals.
"They're a good offensive team and I think Harlow's pretty good on the mound," Scott said. "I think he's not easy -- he can beat people."
Harlow took the loss, working 6 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked five.
"This was a tough game mentally, and I think he might have matured quite a bit in this game, having to go through things like that and having to pitch," Lenox said. "He's only a sophomore. You've got to build and grow on it."