The Eastside Eagles varsity baseball team’s rematch against Stephens County Tuesday night had everything a baseball fan could ask for - high drama, dazzling defense, squeeze plays, long balls, strategizing coaches, proud parents and jubilant players.
The game was a rematch of the previous night’s contest which went to the Eagles.
The combined numbers for both teams on the night included 30 runs, 37 hits, 22 men left on base and six homeruns, as Eastside (13-11, 8-6 Region 8-AAAA) pulled out a gritty 16-14 win over the Indians (14-7, 9-5 8-AAAA), continuing its push for a postseason berth.
The Eagles jumped out to an early lead, posting four runs in the opening frame on the strength of back-to-back singles from Hunter Ballard and Connor Hewell, a triple off the bat of Chase Raines and a towering homerun from Drew Buckhault.
The Indians matched them run-for-run by plating four of their own in the first inning by combining three hits with a walk and a hit batsman. Gray Ritchey was assigned the pitching duties for Eastside against the strong hitting Stephens lineup.
Eastside took the lead again in the second inning with a walk to Jared Jones and an Austin Holloway single, crossing the dish courtesy of a sac-fly from Hewell and a suicide squeeze from Hank Steele, respectively, putting the Eagles up 6-4.
Not to be outdone, the Indians tied it back up with a two-run homer from Logan Bell.
As Eastside stumbled in the third, Stephens took its only lead of the game by pushing a run across to make it 7-6.
The Eagles got back to work in the fourth as Ballard was hit by a pitch followed by Hewell reaching on an error. Steele pulled a single through the left side to bring in one run and Buckhault belted his second home run of the night, clearing the bases while collecting three more RBI’s.
A Peyton Pallay double would go to waste as he was left stranded on base as the inning came to a close with Eastside now up 10-7.
Bell came up for the Indians in the bottom of the inning and promptly sent a solo home run into the trees followed by a pair of doubles from Evan Rumsey and Ben Cleveland, narrowing the gap to 10-9 as the inning came to a close.
Both teams added another run to the tally in the fifth inning, but both teams also left the bases loaded and were unable to capitalize during their scoring situations. The Eagles’ run came as Hewell reached on another single and Pallay collected the RBI.
Ritchey exited the game after 4-1/3 innings of work that netted 10 hits, 10 runs, four walks and two strikeouts while still maintaining an 11-10 lead.
Eastside tacked on couple of more runs in the sixth with singles from Holloway and Raines.
Raines, who replaced Ritchey on the mound to finish the fifth, was also effective in keeping the Indians off the scoreboard in the sixth as they left a pair of runners stranded.
The Eagles put up a goose egg in the top of the seventh, despite a single from Jones and yet another single from Holloway, (3-for-7 on the night) and the drama was bumped up a notch in the bottom of the seventh as Raines faced the heart of the Indians’ lineup.
Stephens pounded out four consecutive hits, including a third home run from Bell, tying the game at 13 runs each. Raines worked himself out of the inning as Stephens County left the bases loaded for a second time.
Heading into extra innings, Hewell lead off the frame with his third hit of the evening, only to remain stranded as a pitching change for the Indians was successful in retiring the Eagles.
Raines again took the hill for Eastside in the bottom of the eighth and worked a three-up, three-down inning to get the Eagles to the top of the ninth.
Eastside centerfielder Jacob Wilder led off the inning with a clutch single through the right side and was then sacrificed to second and continued aggressively to third as the ball was misplayed by the Stephens’ pitcher. Holloway drove in the go-ahead run for the Eagles as Wilder crossed the plate on a fielder’s choice.
The Eagles continued to battle as they knew a one run lead in this game may not hold up considering first baseman Ben Cleveland was slated to lead off the bottom of the inning. Ballard drew a walk and then stole second base to put two runners in scoring position. Hank Steele belted a double in the gap to add a couple of insurance runs to the score.
Going to the bottom of the ninth, the Eagles held a 16-13 advantage.
Raines was relieved (3-2/3 innings, seven hits, three runs, five strikeouts and two walks) and Steele came on to close out the game.
With a 2-1 count on Cleveland, Steele’s pitch caught too much of the plate and the ball left the park and pulled the Indians a little closer. The Indians began to mount a threat as the next batter reached on an infield single, followed by a fielder’s choice for the first out of the inning.
A strikeout eased the tension for the Eagles, but a walk let the lineup rollover and a base hit by Davis McCall loaded the bases for Stephens.
The fans for both teams hung on every pitch as Steele ran the count full on Mason Long, Bbt this night belonged to Eastside as Long struck out, handing the win to Steele and the Eagles.
“Baseball is a game of perseverance and our team displayed a level of tenacity tonight that is difficult to match,” Eastside coach Jon Ayres said. “We put ourselves in a position to win by having everyone on the roster contribute at the plate and in the field.”
Eastside will finish the regular season with a two game series against Monroe Area High School.