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Bearcats rally late to beat NMCC

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

(Photo)
Dexter's Tomas Espey leaps against the fence to catch the final out of the game.
SIKESTON -- Clinging to a six-run lead with two outs in the sixth inning, seemingly, things could not have been better for New Madrid County Central in Monday's Class 3, District 1 first round game against Dexter at Sikeston's VFW Stadium.

Instead, it was the beginning of an Eagle meltdown as the fourth-seeded Bearcats rallied to defeat No. 5 NMCC 10-9 to advance to today's semifinal game against top-seeded Kennett at 2 p.m.

NMCC's pitchers had control problems for much of the game up to the sixth inning -- walking seven -- but they were able to keep Dexter's hitters in check while the team defense made plays as they staged a sizable lead.

But things completely unraveled for the Eagles in the sixth. Ace pitcher Jordan Kimball, in for relief of Thomas Higgerson, walked five Bearcats in the sixth inning, including three straight at one point. Two wild pitches allowed runs to cross.

But the big blow came off a bases clearing triple by Dexter's Logan Swindle as the ball skipped past a diving Woody Smelser in right field. The triple cut the NMCC lead to 9-8.

(Photo)
Dexter's Cole Smith is out after trying to leap over NMCC's Andy Gantner
"We didn't have that many hits today, but Logan Swindle stepped up and had a big one there in the sixth," said Dexter coach Brian Becker. "He had a great AB. He got two strikes on him and he fouled off some good pitches and finally got one that he got the bat solid on it. Luckily for us we had our kids running. It was a very big hit for us."

After walking another batter, Kimball was pulled for Matt Whitehead.

Whitehead didn't fare much better. He balked in the tying run. Then a wild pitch allowed the go-ahead run to cross the plate.

In all, NMCC's pitchers combined for 13 walks.

"It's been a problem all year," said interim NMCC coach Joseph McClarty, filling in for ailing head coach John Jones. "I've been around this game a long time and I don't know if I've ever seen seven runs with two outs in one inning with just two base hits. That last one cleared the bases and that hurt us."

(Photo)
NMCC's Trey Sullenger (22) is congratulated at home plate by Andy Gantner and the rest of the team after hitting his second home run.
Kimball was saddled for the loss. He threw 2 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs, all in the sixth. He allowed just two hits, but walked nine and struck out six.

Kimball, a top talent with a powerful arm, has signed with Arkansas State University.

But Monday just wasn't his day.

"He's had problems with his command all year," said McClarty. "He'll go out and have two or three really good innings and then he'll just kind of lose it there. He just couldn't find the strike zone. He let it bother him and then he started pressing."

Still, the Eagles didn't go quietly in the top of the seventh.

Colt Pruitt laced a two-out double to right field. Then Kyle Marshall drew a walk to put the go-ahead run on first.

But Austin Matthews, in relief for starter Josh Stevens, induced a tall pop fly in foul territory along the first base side.

Dexter first baseman Thomas Espey made a long run past the dugout to make a brilliant catch while leaping against the fence to secure the final out.

"Thomas Espey came in there that last AB and that was a heck of a play that he made to end the game," said Becker.

McClarty felt his team played well, but couldn't overcome the bases on balls.

"We hung in and had a chance at the end of the game," said McClarty. "We fielded it well, we hit the ball well, we ran the bases well. We just had too many walks and that really killed us at the end of the ballgame. Hats off to Dexter. They never quit. That's a stigma of a Brian Becker team. They never stop."

NMCC took control of the game early as Trey Sullenger singled and eventually scored on a fielder's choice by Dylan Harris.

NMCC piled on four more runs in the second. Whitehead had a run-scoring single and Sullenger added a two-run home run to extend the lead to 5-0.

The Eagles extended the lead to 6-0 in the third inning when Harris doubled, stole third, and advanced home on a throwing error by Dexter catcher Drew Pixley.

The Bearcats broke the shutout with three runs in the bottom of the third. Cole Smith drew a bases loaded walk and Tyler Moore had a two-run double to cut the lead to 6-3.

In the top of the fourth, Sullenger cut loose with his second homer of the game, this one a solo job to right field to extend the lead to 7-3.

Kimball's RBI-double and a sacrifice fly by Andy Gantner pushed the lead to 9-3.

A comeback by Dexter in the bottom of the sixth looked far-fetched when Kimball struck out two of the first three batters with a runner on first.

But after Pixley singled, control issues plagued Kimball the rest of the inning.

"Jordan's a heck of a baseball player and he's going to do great things," said Becker. "I'm just glad today that he was a little off on the mound. I'm proud of my boys for having the patience enough to let him fall behind in the count."

Sullenger was 3-3 with four runs and three RBIs. Whitehead went 2-5 with an RBI and two runs. Pruitt went 2-4 with a run. Higgerson was 2-4.

Higgerson threw three-plus innings, allowing three runs off three hits with three walks and one strikeout in getting the no-decision.

After a promising start, NMCC struggled down the stretch to finish its season at 9-9.

"I felt pretty comfortable going into the sixth inning," said McClarty. "It was 9-3 and we had our best pitcher on the mound and we needed six outs. We were really doing what we wanted to do. Then the wheels fell off. I can't say enough about the way we played today. I just wish it was a different outcome."

Dexter (12-8) had no multiple hitters as the team collected just five hits on the day.

Pixley, Moore, Swindle Espey and David Hessling each had hits. Swindle's three RBIs led the way.

Matthews was the winning pitcher, throwing 1 2/3 innings of relief. He allowed no runs off one hit with two strikeouts and a walk.

Stevens threw 5 1/3 innings, allowing nine runs off 11 hits with two strikeouts and three walks in getting the no-decision.