13 free passes, including six with bases loaded, cost Spanish Springs in 16-15 extra-inning loss to Galena with state berth on the line
RENO – Baseball purists would’ve stopped watching after three innings.
Saturday’s 4A North title game at Bishop Manogue between Galena and Spanish Springs featured 31 runs, 26 hits, 26 free passes, 13 different pitchers and lasted just shy of four hours.
The non-traditionalists (i.e. everyone in the at-capacity bleachers) couldn’t look away. This game checked several of the big-game boxes.
A big comeback. Check. Galena trailed 7-1 early.
Controversy. Sure. Neither side of the bleachers, purple or gold, was particularly thrilled with the strike zone. Thoughts were rarely internalized.
Stakes. Undoubtedly. Winner goes to state next week in Las Vegas. Loser plans the postseason barbecue.
And ultimately, another big comeback that came up one hit shy – twice.
The Cougars (25-8) scored two times in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings, and after allowing five runs in the top of the eighth, left the winning run at first in the bottom of the eighth resulting in a wild 16-15 defeat to the Grizzlies (23-13). The one-run loss ended a four-game winning streak in elimination games.
For Spanish Springs, it was the seventh game in five days and the fifth in the last 72 hours. Fatigue projected from the mound as the Cougars walked 10, six with the bases loaded.
“At some point, you run out of gas in a tournament like this,” said Spanish Springs coach Matt Ortiz, who defended the double-elimination format. “These guys had all pitched in the tournament and they were running on fumes … I’m not taking anything away from the quality of pitchers we have. It was that they ran out of gas. Some things just didn’t happen the way they wanted. That’s baseball.”
Galena played for the fifth time in five days after battling through the winner’s bracket, losing for the first time in the tournament in Saturday’s first contest, 17-3.
While the game was decided in the eighth, it swung in the fifth. With a 9-4 lead through four innings, Spanish Springs walked four straight to push two runs across. Niko Pezonella pulled the Grizzlies within a run with a soft single to right that scored two and Austin Wickham gave Galena its first lead with a two-run double to deep left center.
“They (Grizzlies) battled. They had that six-run fifth inning with some unfortunate things happening that inning,” Ortiz said. “They had some clutch hits.”
Freshman Noah Craddock kept the Cougs off the board in their two ensuing at bats going to the seventh. Craddock undoubtedly had the best day of the 13 pitchers who appeared, striking out three, walking no one (the most impressive stat) and allowing just one hit over 2.1 innings.
Craddock picked up the win on Wednesday at Spanish Springs when the Grizzlies dropped the Cougs into the loser’s bracket.
“(He) is a freaking phenomenal freshman,” Ortiz said. “I don’t want to face him for the next three years.”
As the Cougars were down to their final strike in the seventh, trailing 11-9, Dawson Martin punched a two-run single to right. With the winning run on second, Tanner Smith hit one on the screws, but right to the centerfielder.
Martin again came through with two outs in the eighth, scoring Marlin Brucato from second with a single to center to cut the once five-run deficit to 16-15. Wickham commenced the dog pile by inducing a marathon-ending groundout to second.
Martin finished 4-for-6 with four RBIs and a run scored. Brucato, a senior, finished 2-for-6 with a double in the eighth, four RBIs and two runs scored.
The defeat followed the game-one beat down as well as Friday night’s 5-4 win over Reno. Ortiz sees the two victories as a turning point for the program, which finished a win shy of a state berth for a second consecutive season.
“We’re right there as a program,” he said. “We finally beat Reno, and that was a huge step. Not only for us as a program, but for the younger kids seeing that the big monkey can come off your back at any point. And Galena …
“That’s a good group over there. And they kicked our hiney the first three times we played them, I mean, kicked our hiney. The first game felt good, but we knew. We didn’t celebrate. We knew the second game was going to be most important.”
Spanish Springs 17, Galena 3
The Cougars pounded out 16 hits and forced the necessary ‘if’ game with a dominating 17-3 rout of Galena in Saturday’s first game at Bishop Manogue.
It was Spanish Springs’ fourth consecutive elimination game win and first of the year over Galena in four attempts.
“We came out the first game and we put it on them pretty good,” Ortiz said. “And they didn’t like that. I wasn’t going to let up on them because I wanted to carry that into the second game.”
Josh Prizina was a one-man wrecking crew, going 3-for-4 a pair of three-run home runs and seven RBIs.
The game was much closer than the final score indicated through five innings, when the Cougs led 7-1. The busted it open with three runs in the sixth and seven more in the seventh.
Casey Miller benefited from the offensive explosion to pick up the win on the bump. He allowed a lone run on four hits over five innings. He struck out five and danced around four walks.
Brucato, who bats one spot ahead of Prizina in the lineup, finished 4-for-5 with a double, two RBIs and four runs scored.