WOODHULL -- The Ridgewood baseball team was primed to celebrate its first Lincoln Trail Conference championship Tuesday afternoon.|
Instead, it was the Mercer County Golden Eagles showing they still have LTC title-sharing aspirations. First overcoming an early two-run deficit, the Eagles had to quell a seventh-inning rally by the Spartans before securing a key 5-4 win at AlWood High School.
"You know, we were close by what the scoreboard says, but they beat us in every facet of the game,'' said Ridgewood coach Seth Spivey, whose 19-4 club suffered its first conference loss after a 15-0 start and heads to Aledo's Northside Park for Thursday's 4:30 p.m. rematch with Mercer County. The Spartans can still clinch the conference with a victory.
"Mercer County deserved to win. We've got to get a whole lot better to beat them on Thursday. We've got to clean things up, and we've got to come off the bus ready to play Thursday or they're going to give it to us again.''
Taking a 5-2 lead into the last of the seventh after Tanner Matlick's sixth-inning solo home run -- a shot that would prove to be bigger than it seemed at the time -- Mercer County (15-3, 13-2 LTC) hit a snag when Jacob Cole led off the inning with a single, ending starting pitcher Darrin Harrison's day after six solid innings.
Reliever Blake Dillavou then battled through an error, an Andrew Steider sacrifice fly and then a two-out RBI single by Nick Ragan that made it a one-run game. Following a second error that put runners on second and third, Dillavou slipped a third strike past Blayne Street for his second save.
"I told them that's the sign of a good team,'' said Mercer County coach Nick Basala. "We gave them opportunities with our mistakes, but we battled through it all and won the game.''
The Spartans took an early 2-0 lead when Ragan (2-for-3, three RBIs) belted a one-out, two-run homer in the first inning.
At that point, Harrison (4-0) settled down in a big way.The senior then retired the next nine, a string broken by Nate Humphrey's one-out double in the fourth. Street's subsequent single had runners on first and third, but an attempted double-steal ended with Humphrey being thrown out at the plate.
"I just put (Ragan's homer) in the back of my mind, fought through it, and our coaches helped out a lot,'' said Harrison, who also went 2-for-3 at the plate. "The LTC (title) is still within our control; we can still win out and get it.This game was fun, and I'm so glad we won. Thursday is going to be great.''
Mercer County took the lead for good with three third-inning runs, the key hits being RBI singles by Matlick (3-for-4, two RBIs) and Joe Elliott. The Eagles then made it 4-2 on Trenton Higgins' fourth-inning RBI double. After Matlick's homer, Ridgewood loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, but came up empty as Ragan ended up with the loss despite striking out 11.
"That was a big boost after we got down right away,'' said Basala. "We got some good swings, had good approaches at the plate. We did things right, and great things happened for us.''
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