Taylor Turner gets mobbed by his teammates after his walk-off home run in a game one victory.
(Staff Photo by Christopher Du
The opening two games of the best of three championship series between the Whitewater Wildcats and Houston County Bears had wildly opposite, yet oddly similar twists for each victor. Game one saw Whitewater erase a deficit and win with a big blast, 8-6. Game two saw Houston County dig out of a big early hole and find their own unique way to win, theirs in an 8-7 extra innings victory. Two games just weren't going to be enough, setting up a deciding game three to be played on Tuesday. Played before a capacity crowd with fans peeking through every inch of fence, it was a night of baseball well worth the price of admission.
Game one seemed destined to go Houston County's way as they jumped out to a commanding early lead. Hunter Phillips staked the Bears to a first inning, 2-0 lead with a double. The Bears tacked on another run in the second when courtesy runner Blake Dawson was able to score all the way from first base on a Mark Lumsden single and a throwing error.
Whitewater finally got on the board in the bottom half of the frame, on a Justin Trammell infield sacrifice, before the Bears padded their lead a bit more. The top of the fourth saw Jeremiah Stephens lead off by getting plunked by a pitch. Justin Jones would get on by the same route, setting up a two on, one out scoring opportunity. Josh Profit came through with a bloop single to plate a run, then Blake Jackson would make it a 5-1 lead on a sacrifice.
The offensive momentum swung the way of Whitewater as their bats woke up in the bottom of the sixth. An infield single from Tyler Doanes and a Blake Bell walk set the table for Nick Fuerstenau, whose double scored a run to start the rally. Taylor Turner followed with a walk to load the bases with no outs and chased Houston County's starter from the game. Evan Mask stepped up and roped a two RBI single to slice the deficit to one run before Trammell came through with another sac hit to tie the game at 5-5.
With their lead erased and heading into the final inning, Houston County came through with what looked like a winning hit. Jake Fromm crushed a two out hit to score Hunter Phillips and make it a 6-5 game, but Fromm would be thrown out trying to leg it into a double on a heady play by Whitewater's Mask.
Down one run with three outs left to play, the Wildcats came out swinging. Doanes led off with a walk and was joined on base by Fuerstenau, who got plunked by a pitch. Next came the crushing blow.
The ump's call was either spot on or just plain awful depending on which team you asked, but the outcome was the same either way. Taylor Turner stepped into the box and sent a rope down the left field line. It snuck just inside the foul pole for a three-run home run, giving Whitewater their first lead of the game and a thrilling game one victory. Whitewater's fans erupted in celebration, while Houston County's erupted in anger over the ump's call.
Game two belonged to Whitewater in the early frames. The Wildcats picked up one run in the first inning on a Fuerstenau RBI before exploding in the top of the second. After one quick out, the Cats caught fire, sparked first by Evan Mask's near home run turned double off the top of the wall. Jabari Richards drew a walk and Trammell singled to load the bases. Jake Wilkinson singled to plate courtesy runner Tyler Burdette before Doanes scorched a two RBI double to chase Houston's starting pitcher. Taylor Turner padded the lead with his own two RBI double to make it 6-0.
Sophomore Tanner Hall came on in relief for the Bears and saved his team. After the bumpy second, Hall found a groove and would keep Whitewater off the board until the ninth inning.
The bottom of the third was when the Bear bats came out of hibernation. A bloop single from Profit and a Jackson double set the table. Hunt Smith's single drove in the first Bear run of game two, but there was plenty to come. Hunter Phillips plated the next with a single, then Andy Moore blasted a three-run home run over the right field fence to slice the deficit to 6-5.
It was Blake Jackson's turn to go deep in the fourth when he absolutely demolished a pitch, sending it over a the tops of a row of trees in deep center field to tie the game at 6-6.
The game would stay tied, requiring extra innings to settle the score. Whitewater looked primed to claim the championship with a wild score in the top of the ninth inning. Caleb Norton reached base on what should've been a routine single, but a set of defensive miscues allowed him to race around the bases for an inside the park home run and a 7-6 lead.
Houston County was down to the last three outs of their season, knowing they had to score or it was all over. They didn't even need their bats for much of the comeback. Whitewater saw a pair of relievers in the frame struggle to find a tightened strike zone, walking the bases loaded on three straight batters. They tacked on a fourth straight walk to plate the tying run. The Bears capped the victory off with a big swing as Justin Jones roped an RBI single up the middle for the 8-7 win to force the decisive game three.
While it was Houston County's coaches hot after game one, it was Whitewater's turn to be furious after game two, this time over the ump's strike zone down the stretch. Both teams had to sock away their frustrations and get ready for a clean slate. No matter how they got there, it would take a third game to decide this year's state champion.