By David Fong
PIQUA — Michael Hale wanted a win, for certain, but he also had ulterior motives for his actions Thursday night at Hardman Field in Piqua during the regional legion baseball tournament.
“I wanted the night off,” the Troy Post 43 baseball team’s second baseman said after blasting a pair of home runs — and just missing on a third — in Post 43’s 10-7 win over Sidney Post 217 Thursday. “We’ve played a lot of back-to-back-to-back games and it will be nice to have a night off.”
As a result of Hale’s monster night — he went 4-for-5 with a pair of home runs, a double off the fence and a single — Hale and his teammates will get just that. With the win, Troy had the night off Friday and will move into Sunday’s winner’s bracket final.
As a result of the loss, Sidney had been scheduled to play Piqua Post 184 Friday, but that game was rained out and moved to 7 p.m. today at Hardman Field. The winner will now play Troy Sunday afternoon. The winner of today’s game would need to beat Troy twice Sunday to advance to state. Troy will need just one win Sunday to go to state.
Hale’s performance Thursday surprised even him.
“I’ve never hit two home runs in a game before — not even in little league,” he said. “It feels great. I was trying to do that, but it was an awesome feeling they went over the fence.”
Post 43 coach Frosty Brown said Hale’s night off Friday will be well deserved.
“He’s been battling some injuries and we’ve been trying to rest him as much as we could,” Brown said. “Obviously he can’t be hurting too bad after (Thursday’s) performance, though. He’s a real player; he can really hit the ball. And he’s a vacuum cleaner at second base, too.”
Troy would need every bit of Hale’s firepower Friday to overcome a Sidney team that — despite trailing most of the night — never gave in and simply refused to go away.
Down 8-3 in the top of the eighth inning, Hale’s two-run homer seemed to be the final blow — but Sidney managed to keep things interesting by scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth to cut Troy’s lead to 10-7 and move Post 217 well-within striking distance.
In the bottom of the inning, Sidney’s Jace Barga led off with a walk, then Dakota Bollinger reached 0n a fielder’s choice. After Cole Profitt reached base on a Post 43 error, Owen Leugers drew a walk to load the bases. Drew Wehrman was then hit by a pitch, forcing in one run. Sidney third baseman Cameron Jenkins then crushed a double, driving in a pair of runs. Austin McClain pushed across another run when he hit into a fielder’s choice before Troy was able to snuff out the rally.
In the top of the ninth, Post 217’s Josh Koppin drew a walk to open the inning, but Post 43 closer Zach Kirby was able to retire the next three batters in order to end the game.
Sidney coach Jim Koewler was impressed with his team’s resiliency, despite the loss.
“I’ll say this about this team — they’ve been doing this all summer,” Koewler said. “It seems like they always find a way. They never quit. Troy has a good team and a good program. This is only our fifth year back after taking a couple of years off — and I think we are getting back to where we should be. These kids have a lot to do with that. This is a great group of kids.”
While Sidney’s four runs in the bottom of the eighth added gravitas to the proceedings, Troy won by more big innings — and more extra base hits.
Troy got on the board in the top of the first with an RBI double by Trenton Wood. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the second, Sidney had a chance to make some major noise when McLain, Kyle Subler and Koppin all hit one-out singles to load the bases. A sacrifice fly by Barga and an RBI single by Bollinger plated two runs, but the rally fizzled when Post 43 pitcher Chris Heisey struck out the final Sidney batter, leaving the bases loaded.
Post 43 would tack on four more in the top of the third on Hale’s solo homer, a two-run triple by Jackson Ford and an RBI single by Adamn Gunston. A double by Wood led to a successful double steal and another run for Troy in the fourth. A leadoff triple by Ryan Lavy — who scored on a fielder’s choice — gave Troy its largest lead of the night, 8-2.
Sidney would again squander another chance at a big inning in the bottom of the sixth when it loaded the bases on singles by Barga, Bollinger and Profitt, but could only push across one run, leaving two runners on base to end the inning.
“The other good thing about winning is it means Sidney and Piqua have to use up more pitching,” Brown said. “We get to save out pitching for Saturday and, if we need it, Sunday. Plus, I think it gives you a little bit of a mental edge. The two teams that play on Friday know that if they lose, they are done. We can relax a little bit for one night. It’s good to get the night off.”
Which, in the end, is all Hale really wanted.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong