By Brandon Hurley
When Greene County senior Branden Miller stepped to the plate Monday with a chance to be a hero in his final home game, not swinging the bat wasn’t exactly what he pictured.
But Miller’s bases loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth inning pushed across fellow senior Tyler Beger for the winning, walk-off run in a 5-4, thrilling come from behind victory over North Polk on senior night.
“I was thinking, don’t strike out or don’t hit into a double play,” Miller said. “So I thought I would crowd the plate and hopefully he would walk me.
“I was looking for a base hit, or a way to get on base, and it turned out well. Even though it’s nothing too fancy, it still got the win and it feels great.”
In what was a lackluster performance offensively through the first six innings, in which the Rams left nine runners on base, failing to take advantage of bases loaded situations in both the fourth and fifth innings, a disappointing senior night looked eminent as Greene County entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 4-1.
What ensued was a dramatic, two-out rally, as the Rams scored three runs to force extra innings, thanks in large part to pinch-hitter Ben Wilkens’ huge bases-loaded, two-RBI single.
Greene County was trailing 4-1and struggled to come up with timely hits all night. After Tom Gannon’s lead-off single, more inept offense arose, as Lamoureux and Miller struck out in back-to-back at bats. But a two-out single from Wade Adcock and a walk from freshman Austin Delp loaded the bases. A wild pitch from North Polk reliever, Colby Cupp, scored Gannon narrowing the gap to 4-2.
Cupp struggled with his control again, walking Calvin Skalla to load the bases one more time.
“I told (our guys) to be patient,” Greene County baseball coach Mark Sawhill said. “(North Polk) hadn’t been throwing a lot of strikes. If you see one, give it a rip and go. We needed to take it one batter, one hit at a time and they did it. We got some timely hits when we needed to.”
Wilkins wasted no time in his clutch at bat, and stroked a two-run scoring single.The drama didn’t stop there, either. Just as the tying run crossed the plate, Skalla was thrown out by a North Polk fielder trying to advance from first to third. The final run would count – Delp scored just before the out.
The third out meant the game was headed to extra innings.
Delp played a monumental role on the pitcher’s mound, tossing seven complete innings, striking out five. He allowed four runs, two in the first inning and two in the fifth. The freshman pitched well outside of those two, rough innings, fooling North Polk batters several times on a slow, looping curveball.
Adcock tossed a scoreless eighth inning, inducing three consecutive ground outs, for a three up, three down top frame.
“Austin (Delp) had pitched around 100 pitches and it was time for him to come out. It was kind of a last minute decision (to go with Wade). I looked around and said ‘Who’s ready?’” Sawhill said. “And I looked right at Wade and said to him, ‘You got any?’ and he said yes. Right there, he told me he wanted the mound and he did a great job.”
The bottom of the eighth inning was certainly not as dramatic as the seventh.
North Polk chose to intentionally walk Gannon and Lamoureux and load the bases after eighth inning lead-off batter and senior, Tyler Beger reached on an error and advanced to third on a failed pick-off attempt.
North Polk’s gambles, which would put force outs in play at all the bases, turned out to be the difference-maker.
Beger had no doubt in his mind he was making a push for third on the wild pick off attempt before Miller’s at bat.
“I knew I had to get to third because that would be big to have the lead-off batter get to third and give us a chance to score,” Beger said. “And I thought it was a mistake to walk the next two batters and obviously it was. It felt pretty good to be that last run, as a senior.”
Three straight walks - and no hits, were enough to do damage and get Greene County the win.
The late inning heroics from Delp, Adcock, Beger and company was a testament to what Sawhill knows his athletes are capable of.
“We just stayed within ourselves,” Sawhill said. “We know we can hit if we want to and do the things that we need to do. Defensively, we didn’t make a lot of mistakes. It came out in our favor tonight.”
Miller and Beger joined seniors Lamoureux and Mac Adamson on a memorable senior night.
“They are a class act,” Sawhill said. “They work hard. They are real good kids. The kind of kids you want on your team. They are going to be missed next year, there’s no doubt about it. Each one knows what role they have to play and it’s fun to have them around.”
Greene County (9-14) pulled out a road victory at South Hamilton Tuesday night, an 8-4 win to complete the season sweep. The Rams beat the Hawks 10-0 just eight days prior at home.
The Rams are on a roll as of late, winning six of their last eight.
“I hope our kids don’t think ‘OK, we beat (North Polk) so we are done,” Sawhill said. “We need to be focused and we can have a really good week. All we need to do is stay within ourselves and do things that we can do.”