(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- Erupting for 11 runs in the third inning Wednesday evening, the Charleston Fighting Squirrels erased an early two-run deficit to the Northwest Tennessee Blazers before holding on for an 11-5 win in the first game of a doubleheader.
"We took advantage of a few of their miscues," Charleston coach Michael Minner said of the third inning rally. "They probably should have been out of it with four or five runs, but when they kicked it and made a few miscues we hammered on some baseballs and made them pay for making some mistakes.
"That's the sign of a good team."
Kicking off the fateful frame, Charleston collected back-to-back singles from Bryan Freed and Marshall Stallings before Seth Childers was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.
In the next at-bat the Squirrels got their first big break of the night when Nathan Rodgers hit a grounder to the second baseman that looked to be a quick force out.
Rather than making an out, however, Childers' contact with the second baseman when he tried to tag him out knocked the ball loose allowing two runs to score and Childers to safely move over to third before the ball could be recovered.
"He caught the ground ball and was coming at me with his glove away from his body," Childers said. "I just ran straight into his glove and the ball got knocked out and just kind of kicked things off for us."
Giving Charleston its first lead of the night, Bobby Clark came up next and scored Childers on a line drive to give the Squirrels a 3-2 lead.
Before the inning was over the Squirrels would bat around their order without giving up and out. They collected nine hits while taking advantage of three Blazer errors.
After all nine Squirrels had scored in order, the final two runs of the rally came when Rodgers hit a shot to deep left center field that rolled back to the wall to bring home runners from first and second.
"They broke down a bit defensively," Stallings said of Northwest Tennessee. "But we also were hitting the ball pretty well that inning. It just turned out to be a good inning."
Northwest Tennessee put two more runs on the board in the fifth to close back to within seven as Nick Newell scored a runner from second on a ground ball up the middle, followed by an infield single from Taylor Patterson scoring a runner from third.
Though the Squirrels gave the Blazers one more run in the sixth, allowing the Blazers to close to within six, relief pitcher Josh Boese was able to close the door in the seventh after some initial trouble.
Facing runners on first and second with one out, catcher Childers was able to throw out Jeff Leffridge trying to steal third before Boese closed out the game with a groundout to third.
"I was proud of the way they kind of battled back," Blazers' coach Randy Dailey said. "But that's been our problem all year. We get ahead and no matter whether it's the first, third or sixth inning we seem to have a tendency to put it on cruise control quite early. "Once we start games we have to be able to finish them and right now we're just having trouble doing that."
With 10 hits on the game Charleston was led by Stallings who went 3 for 4 on the night, including hitting a pair of singles in that eventful third inning rally. Clark was second on the team with two hits.
Needing to build momentum heading into next week's Senior Babe Ruth state tournament, Minner was pleased that his team was able to keep the Blazers from fighting their way back into the game.
"I told the guys if you get up 11-2 that has to be a for sure win and you have to make sure and close it out," Minner said. "They kind of battled around, but at no point were we in jeopardy of losing the game.
"So that's a big win for our program and we just continue to build for next week's state tournament and the regional."
Forcing a split in the doubleheader Northwest Tennessee came back in the second game and won 9-0.
Charleston now stands at 16-15 while Northwest Tennessee is 10-15.
Northwest 110 021 0 - 5
Charleston 00(11) 000 x - 11
WP -- Mikey Russell. LP -- Braden Anderson. 2B -- (N) Taylor Patterson, Dustin Smith; (C) Nathan Rodgers.