All the nightmares of Evergreen’s 0-10 start to the baseball season were coming back in the late innings against the 9-1 Swanton Bulldogs Monday.
An early 4-0 lead was evaporating thanks to a whopping 10 walks by Viking pitching and a pair of seventh inning errors that opened the door for a Bulldog comeback.
However, unlike the myriad of one and two run losses Brian Nagy’s team has suffered this year, the Vikings got the big strikeout to negate a walk-filled inning, the huge defensive play to overcome a fielding error and finally a two-strike, two-out base hit from Josh Dowling in the bottom of the seventh to mark the winning run in a 5-4 NWOAL upset victory.
“The youngsters really came through,” explained Nagy. “Our sophomore starter (Bryce Hudik) gets us through the sixth, gets us through the heart of their order. Then we have a freshman (Mason Henricks) come to the mound who has not pitched a lot and he comes in against two of the best hitters in the league and maybe the district in (Gunnar) Oakes and (Mike) Lawniczak and battles and battles like crazy. And our junior who hasn’t played for two years (Dowling) comes through for us, so it’s a great day for those guys.”
Hudik was more like the Great Houdini in the early innings, getting himself in trouble with the base on balls, then getting out of it.
A pair of walks to Lawniczak and Zach Zawodni to open the third put Bulldogs on first and second.
But Hudik picked Lawniczak off for one out, got a strikeout, and after issuing a third walk of the inning, got Jonny Shanks to pop out to right to end the threat.
It was more of the same in the third as Roman Epley drew a one-out walk and Hunter Mix got the Bulldogs’ first hit and along with a balk, Swanton had runners at second and third for the core of their lineup.
Again Hudik bore down, getting Oakes on a short pop to left and striking out Lawniczak to end the inning.
Swanton starter Noah Johnston wasn’t as fortunate in the bottom of the inning.
He hit Drew Greene with a pitch to start the frame, then after a force play, Henricks rapped a hit-and-run single to right and Johnston plunked John Ruth to load the bases.
Freshman Jack Krispin’s solid single marked the first two Evergreen runs, and after a ground out, Sam Lubinski’s two-strike single through the middle and Bryce Eisel’s infield hit plated two more to give the Vikings a 4-0 lead.
“We have been behind it seems like all season,” said Nagy. “But today getting ahead and playing from in front was so nice in comparison to always chasing. The kids put the ball in play early which was enormous to change the tone of our offense.”
Swanton put together a huge threat in the fifth with one down as Hudik walked Zach Bloom, Epley and Mix, but he got Oakes to hit into a force play at second and Lawniczak on a fly to center to allow just one run.
The Dogs put a crooked number up in the sixth to get within a run again, starting with a base on balls to Zawodni.
Josh Adcock followed with a single to left, then pinch hitter Derek Floyd rammed a double into the left-center field gap to score a run and Bloom’s grounder to second brought home a second to make it 4-3.
It was then that Nagy went to Henricks in the seventh and when Mix reached on Eisel’s error, Swanton had an opportunity.
Mix stole second, but Henricks after an eight pitch battle with Oakes, got him looking at a change up on the outside corner for strike three.
However, the Dogs weren’t done as Lawniczak was walked intentionally and Zawodni singled to load the bases.
Adcock came up and rapped a groundball that was destined for a two-run single to left, but Dowling ranged far in the hole to cut it off and with a jump turn throw to Zach Lumbrezer at second got a much needed force as the tying run scored.
“Defensively we got some great plays,” stated Nagy. “The play Josh Dowling made in the seventh, even though they scored a run, we got the force out at second. That was probably the defensive play of the game right there saving a second run and getting us one more out.”
Instead of being down a run with one less out, Henricks got out of the inning three pitches later tied on a flyball to right.
The Vikes began their winning rally with one down when Epley mishandled Teagen Pinkelman’s grounder and Lubinski walked, ending the day for Johnston.
Bloom came on in relief and got Eisel to hit into a force play to put runners on first and third, but with two down on a 1-2 pitch, Dowling’s line drive into right center found the grass for a game winner.
“The young man who makes the defensive play of the game turns around and gets the game winning RBI,” Nagy said of Dowling. “He has shaken off the rust from day one. He’s got all the tools necessary, it’s just a matter of working out the kinks and getting back into that everyday grind of what baseball season is.”
Henricks picked up the win in relief while Johnston took the loss.
Evergreen now hosts Archbold Thursday before traveling to Wauseon Friday.
Swanton, now 9-2, plays Bryan Thursday in NWOAL play.
Reach Joe Blystone at firstname.lastname@example.org