ALEDO — Dusty Werner was a year too late to be a part of AlWood-Cambridge's 2009 Lincoln Trail Conference co-championship baseball team.|
However, on a chilly Thursday at Northside Park, the Ridgewood Spartans' senior center fielder did his part to give the four-year-old co-op its first outright LTC championship.
Sprinting home from third base on a throwing error in the top of the sixth inning, Werner's heads-up play combined with strong pitching from Noah Shannon and Nate Humphrey to give the Spartans a thrilling, 2-1, pennant-clinching victory over Mercer County.
"I always go as hard as I can," said Werner, who had singled off Golden Eagles' pitcher Tanner Matlick to open the sixth. In the first inning, his leaping catch at the fence took a possible home run away from Matlick. "It's unbelievable. We've come a long way from my freshman year, just by working hard, working to get better and being there all the time."
Of his first-inning catch, Werner said, "It felt like it was going out, so I went after it. I didn't worry about the fence; I just wanted to do the best I could."
Shannon (7-0) scattered five hits and allowed an unearned run in 6 1/3 innings. However, when the Golden Eagles (15-4, 13-3 LTC) threatened in the seventh after Ryan Garrett ripped a one-out single and Shannon hit Matlick with a pitch, Humphrey came in and retired the next two batters for his fourth save, giving Ridgewood (20-4) a 16-1 league mark.
"I wanted to stay out there," said Shannon, "but Coach (head coach Seth Spivey) has more experience and knows more than I do. This is a big deal. We worked hard in the offseason, and we didn't want to leave anything to chance."
"It was tough to keep my nerves down" said Humphrey, "but I've been in these situations before, and I felt more comfortable this time. I was trying to get batters out before thinking about us being LTC champs."
It was Humphrey (2-for-3 at the plate) who scored the game's first run on Shannon's one-out RBI single in the second inning, but Mercer County quickly responded in the bottom of that frame when Joe Elliott led off with a double and scored on a two-out error.
The Eagles had plenty of chances to break that 1-1 tie, most notably in the bottom of the fourth, when a two-out rally loaded the bases. However, Shannon got Garrett to pop out to quell the uprising.
"We had a lot of opportunities. We just didn't string too many hits together," said Mercer County coach Nick Basala, whose club left 10 runners stranded on base. "We were getting the ball up in the wind, and not leveling it out like we needed to. A good team has to adjust, but we didn't adjust much."
In the loss, Matlick was sharp with no walks and seven strikeouts, allowing just four hits. "He had great command of his curve and fastball and did a good job mixing up his pitches," Basala said. "He's a gamer, no doubt about it, and he deserved to win."
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