It’s amazing how many raw emotions can sweep across a team in the span of one inning of a baseball game.
The Garaway Pirates had the Strasburg Tigers right where they wanted them in the top of the seventh inning in their Inter-Valley Conference showdown Thursday, March 31 on The Hill in Sugarcreek.
Then, in the blink of an eye, they were down and out.
But in true comeback fashion, the resilient Pirates found themselves celebrating a victory anyway in the one that almost got away, an 8-7 win in a wild finish.
For Garaway, it went from joy to disappointment, disappointment to bitterness, which turned to excitement and finally elation, all in the span of one inning.
“We were unfortunate but fortunate,” said Garaway head coach Justin Elmore.
Garaway had taken a 2-0 lead off Strasburg ace Jay Dibacco, then plated another deuce in the bottom of the third to forge a 4-0 lead. The Tigers then battled back against Garaway ace Austin Miller to trim the lead to 4-1 in the fourth and then tacked on two more to get within 4-3 in the fifth.
Meanwhile, Garaway as stranding runners at an alarming clip, failing to build on its lead by leaving multiple runners in scoring position on three different occasions.
Yet as the teams entered the final inning, Garaway still clung to the one-run lead, and after Strasburg put runners on first and second with two outs, a ground ball to short, where Miller had moved after being replaced on the mound by Quinn Miller, seemed like the final out. Austin Miller gobbled it up, and rather than take the short out, threw across to first to first baseman Joel Honigford, who had the knee-high throw glance off the tip of his glove, allowing not just the tying run but the go-ahead run to score. Strasburg would plate two more and take a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the seventh.
“I was like, ‘What In the world?’ It was crazy. We got a little complacent with the lead we had and left a lot of guys in scoring position, and then that happens,” said Elmore. “Austin chose to go to first instead of taking the flip to second, and I am OK with that decision. It wasn’t a bad throw. It is one that Joel should have caught, but he hasn’t had a lot of work down there coming off of basketball season, and he said he just took his eye off of it.”
Now trailing by three in a game they appeared to have all sewn up just moments earlier, Garaway was forced to claw its way back.
It started to immediately, when Micah VanFossen singled, Austin Miller walked and Dallas Foster singled sharply to left to load the bases. Garaway then took advantage of a passed ball to score twice. Gino Shupbach, who had come on in relief of Dibacco, had a pitch sail by the catcher to the backstop, and Van Fossen scored. As the throw went to the plate where Shupbach was covering, the errant throw skipped by, rolled into no-man’s land between the mound and first base, and Miller raced homer to make it 7-6. A groundball to short tied the score, and then with two outs and a runner on third, Elmore went to the bench, calling on Trey Hershberger. Hershberger laced a shot over the left-fielder’s head to bring home the game-winning run, scoring B.J. Schwartz, who had singled later in the inning.
“Trey made me look like a genius. Strasburg’s got a good ball team, and this was a big win for us,” said Elmore. “You hate losing the lead like we did, but it was nice to see that we had the resolve and mental toughness to come back and take it back from them.”
Garaway gave up seven runs on the night, but only two were earned, and that is something Elmore said his team needs to clean up as it advances through the season.
He noted that both Millers threw the ball well, and was pleased with the pitching effort.
Shupbach led the Tigers attack with three hits, while Thomas and Mitch Spinnell added a pair of hits apiece. VanFossen cracked three hits for the Pirates, while Austin Miller singled twice, Ian Hershberger smacked a pair of singles and Schwartz doubled and singled.
Strasburg fell to 3-1, 1-1 in IVC play, while Garaway now stands at 1-1 overall and 1-0 in league play.
“This could be a major catapult for us,” said Elmore. “We were down four going into the with against Dover and got back to within one run by scoring three late. We are battling, giving ourselves a shot. And this was a positive in the end. “