Blue Ribbon wins: Raiders edge Palmyra, Wildcats in thrillers
One game couldn’t end soon enough. Another game wouldn’t end. Both turned out to be nerve-testing, gut-wrenching contests that really pushed the Middletown varsity baseball team to its emotional limits.
Blue Ribbon wins: Raiders edge Palmyra, Wildcats in thrillers
The best news of all: The Blue Raiders came out victorious in both games last week against top-level Keystone Division opponents.
A game at Palmyra on Tuesday, April 2 started out looking as if the Raiders were on their way to a shocking rout over the Cougars. But the tide turned in the hosts’ favor in the bottom half of the third inning, setting the stage for a nail-biting finish. In the end, the Middletown squad escaped with a thrilling 11-10 victory.
In stark contrast to the 21 combined runs scored in that game, a matchup at home against Mechanicsburg on Thursday, April 4 ended with just one run scored between the Raiders and the visiting Wildcats. The amazing story line here was that it took 13 full innings to decide the outcome, an exciting 1-0 win by the Middletown nine.
The pair of wins pushed the Raiders up to a 3-2 overall record.
Middletown 11, Palmyra 10
The game at Palmyra could not have started off any better for the Raiders and starting pitcher Zack Sims.
Cody Fox led off the game with a single, moved to second when Ryan Popp drew a walk, and scored on Nick Drawbaugh’s infield dribbler. After Jordan Flowers walked to load the bases, Eddie Finsterbush knocked in the second run on a sacrifice fly.
Sims faced just four batters in the home half of the first, getting two strikeouts, and the Raiders held onto their 2-0 lead after one.
The Middletown squad then erupted for 8 runs in the top of the second stanza and jumped out to a surprising 10-0 advantage against starting Palmyra pitcher Mitch Sauley and reliever Bobby Dorta. A walk to Kyle Finsterbush, followed by a pair of singles by Fox and Popp, loaded the bases with one out. Sims was hit by a pitch, forcing in one run, Drawbaugh’s sac fly pushed in another and Finsterbush drew a walk to give the Raiders a 5-0 lead with two outs.
With Sims, Flowers and Finsterbush filling the bags, Nathan Ocker ripped a long single to right field to clear the bases and push the lead up to 8-0. The Raiders tacked on two more runs on RBI singles by Dylan Bower and Fox.
The Cougars started off the bottom of the second with a walk and pair of stolen bases by Griffin Mitchell, but Sims kept the Palmyra squad off the scoreboard with a pair of strikeouts and a fly out to right field.
In the top of the third, Drawbaugh’s one-out double set up run No. 11 for the Raiders. After moving to third on a Flowers single, Drawbaugh scored on a Palmyra error on a fielders’ choice grounder by Finsterbush. An inning-ending groundout, however, left three runners stranded.
Little did anyone know at that point how important that 11th run would be.
Palmyra’s dormant offense really came to life in the home half of the third frame. With the bases loaded following a walk and two singles, Trey Baker’s double knocked in the first three runs for the hosts. Back-to-back hits by pinch hitters Bryce Betz and Mike Rothermel pushed home 4 more Palmyra runs and another late RBI hit suddenly closed the Middletown lead to 11-8 before Sims got out of the inning on a pop out.
The Raiders had a chance to pad the lead in the top of the fourth but came up empty after Popp and Sims hit back-to-back singles. After taking over the pitching duties in the fourth, Betz shut out the Raiders the rest of the way.
But Sims stayed the course on the hill for Middletown and kept the Cougars from scoring through the fourth and fifth innings. Drawbaugh pitched the sixth inning for the Raiders and did well, but the Cougars scored an unearned run on a fielding error with two outs in the inning to make it an 11-9 game.
Finsterbush singled for the Raiders with two outs in the top of the seventh but was stranded and the Cougars had one last chance to pull out a come-from-behind win.
Ocker took the mound in the bottom of the seventh and quickly picked up a pair of outs on a ground ball and strikeout. But the Cougars were far from finished.
Back-to-back singles and a Middletown fielding error allowed Palmyra to score its 10th run and push the increasing tension sky high. It grew even more tense when Griffin walked to load the bases for teammate Tyler Rivera.
Ocker started off with two quick strikes. Rivera looked at ball one and then fouled off two pitches to keep the game hanging in the balance.
But Ocker’s sixth pitch was the gem. Rivera hit a grounder that Popp fielded cleanly and tossed to first for the final out.
Middletown 1, Mechanicsburg 0
Ocker and Mechanicsburg’s Andrew Spanos locked up in a classic pitchers’ duel that carried both teams to a 0-0 deadlock after nine full innings at Middletown’s chilly home field on Thursday.
When the marathon finally ended well after 7 p.m., the Raiders celebrated the thrilling 1-0 victory. Pinch runner Eddie Arnold made it happen as he raced home from third on a wild pitch with two outs to provide the winning score.
Drawbaugh, who pitched the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th innings in relief, picked up the victory, after both Ocker and Spanos had used up their eligibility for the week. Ben Dubas took the loss for the Wildcats.
Ocker (9 strikeouts) and Spanos were both sharp from the outset and were both backed up by good defense.
Neither team seriously threatened to score through the game’s first four innings.
In the top of the fifth, Mechanicsburg’s Kyle Lynch made it to third base with two outs but was picked off for the third out on a throw from catcher Fox to Bower.
In the bottom of the eighth Finsterbush walked, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ocker and stole third. But he was left stranded on an inning-ending pop-out.
Two Mechanicsburg batters reached base in the top of the 10th with one out, but Drawbaugh got out of trouble with a groundout and strikeout.
The Raiders got something going in the bottom of the 10th, when Drawbaugh led off with a single and courtesy runner Arnold advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Flowers. Following an intentional walk to Finsterbush, Ocker reached first on an infield single to load the bases. But Bower’s grounder back to the pitcher started a killing double play to end the threat.
The Wildcats again threatened in the top of the 12th inning with a pair of walks, a sacrifice and stolen base. With two outs and runners on second and third, Middletown coach Mike Carnes called for an intentional walk to Spanos to load the bases. The gamble paid off when left fielder Finsterbush ran down a fly ball to end the inning.
After the Wildcats again left two runners on base in the top of the 13th, the Raiders came up with the winning plays to finally finish the game.
With one out, Bower legged out a single and ran to second on a throwing error. Enter Arnold, who had been just called up from the junior varsity squad prior to the Palmyra game. Kyle Finsterbush’s perfect sacrifice bunt moved Arnold to third and Fox was intentionally walked. With Popp in the batter’s box with one strike on him, Dubas’ second pitch sailed high off the catcher’s glove and rolled to the backstop.
Arnold took off from third and slid safely across home plate with the winning run amid the outburst of cheers from his teammates and fans – and the Raiders pocketed the well-earned victory.
Larry Etter can be reached at email@example.com.