WEST UNITY — By the time the seventh inning had ended, nearly 45 minutes had passed, nine runs had been scored, six batters had been walked and Hilltop and Stryker experienced both sides of victory and defeat.
The Panthers trailed by six entering the top half of the seventh inning, but scored seven runs to take a one-run lead headed into the bottom half.
Hilltop, however, had an answer and ended the game with a walk, error, hit by pitch and single from Chase Whitman gave Hilltop a thrilling 12-11 ACME baseball win at Hilltop High School on Tuesday.
“I’m not nervous, one through nine these guys have the passion to play to get the job done,” Hilltop coach Isaac VanArsdalen said. “I told them it’s like flipping a coin (in close games). You either get them or you don’t. You do everything in your power to win, that’s what we did. As the season continues, we’re going to do everything in our power to keep winning.”
In a sloppy game where 15 walks were issued, 10 batters were hit by a pitch and eight errors and two balks were committed, it was fitting that there were only four hits combined in the seventh inning — the last of which won Hilltop the game.
“Got some runners on base, weren’t able to close out some batters,” Stryker coach Kent Holsopple said. “That’s the way baseball goes sometimes. You’ve got to make the play with runners on and we weren’t able to make the play.”
The Cadets, due to some scheduling conflicts, had to be short with their pitchers and threw seven of them to get 21 outs on the night.
It worked in some innings, as the mix of speedy and slower pitchers confused Stryker and slowed down its offense. But in the seventh, no Hilltop pitcher could find the strike zone.
“I’ve worked with the younger kids who haven’t seen the mound, and experience is a huge thing,” VanArsdalen said. “Evan Schoonover comes in and balks on the first pitch. That’s something you can’t plan on happening, it just happens.”
Jay Garrett went 2-for-3 with a hit by pitch and a double, as he notched two RBIs in addition to an appearance on the mound. Whitman, who had the game-winning hit, had three RBIs and three singles to lead all hitters.
Max Wonders got the start for the Panthers and threw four innings, but the game got continuously more wild and wacky as the innings and miscues mounted.
Which is why in the seventh inning, with Stryker down by six, it was only right that the Panthers rallied to take the lead, only to lose on Hilltop’s only hit of the inning.
“Expect the unexpected, don’t underestimate anyone,” VanArsdalen said. “I want to get those three outs and get out of town, and sometimes it doesn’t happen. Just expect the unexpected.”