Pioneers rally past Warriors for district win

STEPHENS CITY – Sherando and Millbrook have made a habit of having dramatic baseball games over the years, and it continued Saturday.

The Pioneers rallied in the seventh inning and then held on for a 2-1 Class 4, Northwestern District win by throwing a Sherando runner out at the plate to end the contest.

“This is a typical Sherando-Millbrook game,” Millbrook coach Brian Burke said. “No matter where teams are in the standings we’re going to give the local community a wonderful baseball game every time out on the field. It’s just what it is.”

Millbrook’s Jalen Tyson hit a 2-run homer in the top of the seventh to give the Pioneers the win.

Sherando starting pitcher Michael Usa walked Luke Churchill with two outs. Tyson then sent a 1-1 pitch by Usa over the center-field fence for a 2-1 lead.

” I felt like (Sherando centerfielder Nick Mazza) was going to catch it and then he just kept running and stopped,” Tyson said. “So I felt like it was gone. It felt wonderful, greatest accomplishment.”

Sherando coach Pepper Martin said the walk to Churchill, who had two strikes on him, hurt.

“In that situation, we got to pound the zone and let (Churchill) hit,” Martin said. “If he gets a base hit, hats off to him but we cannot give a free pass there. We’ve got to give our defense a chance to make a play, get the last out of the game and the game’s over. Instead, we walk him.”

The Warriors (4-4, 1-3 Class 4 Northwestern) didn’t go down in the seventh without a fight. Sherando’s A.J. Wunder singled off Millbrook relief pitcher Caleb Benner. A sacrifice bunt by Mazza moved him to second. With two outs, Tad Dean singled to left field, and the Warriors sent Wunder home, but Millbrook catcher Chris Burger tagged Wunder out at the plate to end the game.

Churchill, the left-fielder, threw a perfect throw to Millbrook third basemen Alec Rudolph, who then threw a perfect strike to Burger at the plate on the play.

“If I had to do that 10 times, I’d do it 10 times,” Martin said of sending Wunder home. “Hats off to them, they executed perfectly. They had two perfect relay throws to get us bang-bang at the plate. I rolled the dice, and they came up snake eyes.”

Burke said he was proud of Churchill, who was making his first-ever start in left field.

“It says a lot, for (Churchill) to come up throwing, knowing the situation, knowing that he had to hit a cutoff man Alec (Rudolph) in position to make the throw to the plate,” Burke said. “It takes two perfect throws and two catches to make that play successful, and we were able to accomplish it.”

Both teams had chances early in the game. In the top of the third, Tyson singled off Usa. With one out, Rudolph singled but Bailey Collins flied out and a force out at second base ended the inning.

In the bottom of the third, Sherando’s Frank Ritter doubled to right field with two outs. Dean grounded out to end the inning on a ball that hit off of Millbrook starting pitcher Haden Madagan’s glove and went right to second baseman Collins who threw Dean out.

The Warriors took the lead in the bottom of the fourth. Sherando’s Payne Bauer drew a lead-off walk from Madagan. Bauer stole second and moved to third on a groundout by Hunter Entsminger.

Usa followed with a sacrifice fly to score Bauer and give the Warriors a 1-0 lead.

In the top of the fifth, the Warriors missed out on a golden opportunity. Wunder was hit by a pitch from Madagan. Nick Mazza reached on a bunt single. Madagan got behind in the count 3-0 to Ritter and was replaced by Benner. Burke said that Madagan suffered a shoulder injury after making the third pitch to Ritter.

Benner intentionally walked Ritter to load the bases. Dean flied out, Benner struck out Bauer and Entsminger grounded out to end the inning.

“Whenever you’re in that situation you got to have one run,” Martin said. “You’d like to have two and might be able to get 3 in that situation, and we got none. (Benner) Executed and they executed defensively, and we did not execute very well offensively. That hurt, it didn’t do us in, but it hurt.”

Burke said that he felt like that inning changed the momentum of the game.

“I thought Caleb Benner coming in bases loaded, no outs to relieve Madagan and getting us out of that situation was a nice little momentum changer.”

Tyson had two hits and two RBIs to lead the Pioneers (6-3, 3-1 Class 4, Northwestern). Rudolph also had two hits. Burke said that after losing to James Wood on Thursday, the win over Sherando was just what the team needed.

“(Thursday) night I felt like some of us were on our own agenda, moving in different directions,” Burke said. “We talked about attitude and effort. The coaching staff brought that to everybody’s attention. And we felt like we got great effort and great attitudes in order to pull this one off today. Everyone was involved in the game. It took almost our entire roster to pull this one out.”

Sherando was led at the plate by Dean with two hits. Usa pitched a complete game, striking out four and allowing only five hits.

“Michael (Usa) pitched a heck of a game,” Martin said. “He didn’t try to get too fancy and generate a bunch of strikeouts. He located his pitches well. He was throwing all three of them more or less for strikes. Pretty much pitching to contact. With the exception of one swing, they hit a lot of grounders and fly balls. It’s tough to swallow this one when your down to one strike and the game’s over.”