Raiders season ends in heartbreaking fashionJune 18, 2019
By JONATHAN SAXON
INDIANAPOLIS — We’ve all experienced heartbreak in one form or another. Somewhere along the line we found ourselves within spitting distance of a goal we had put so much time, effort, and focus towards only to find it whisked away at the last possible second be either mistakes we made or elements out of our control.
The Southridge Raiders, unfortunately, had to feel that heartbreak on Tuesday night at the 2A state championship game against the Alexandria-Monroe Tigers as they fell 4-3.
The Raiders came in determined to redeem themselves for last year’s title game loss and were well on their way to doing so with a dominant six innings and a 3-2 lead going into the seventh. But then fickle fate stepped in.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh Raiders sophomore starter Ethan Bell looked like he had claimed his tenth and final strikeout to close the game, but the third strike made it past sophomore catcher Chase Taylor, who then overthrew the chaser to first base which allowed Kole Stewart to make it to second base. Tigers starter Brennan Morehead followed with a double that scored Stewart and tied the game at 3-3.
But the final straw came when first baseman Nick Williams, who was 1-for-3 to that point, stepped into a single, which sailed to left field and dropped next to sophomore shortstop Colson Montgomery. Morehead scored and the game was over, 4-3.
The Raiders (22-9) were understandably shocked at the outcome, but their coach Gene Mattingly brought them together to remind them of something more important than the final score against the Tigers (29-6).
“All the guys that are hanging their heads, I get it. It’s going to hurt like crazy,” he said. “It’s a game, it’s not going to change how I feel about them. Their value isn’t created in what they do on the field. I love all of them. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
The Raiders certainly got off on the right foot as sophomore Camden Gasser turned a single into an extra base thanks to a missed catch junior first basemen Nick Williams. Sophomore shortstop Colson Montgomery and Taylor then loaded the bases after a walk and plunking respectively. Bell followed that with a single that scored Gasser and jumped the Raiders out to a 1-0 lead.
The scoring would become paltry until the fourth inning. Bell started things off with his second single, but he wouldn’t be on base for long as a double from senior right fielder Joe LaGrange dropped in center field and drove him in for the team’s second run. And while they say lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, that apparently doesn’t apply to baseball as junior first baseman Connor Oxley crushed another double right back to the same spot in center field to make it a 3-0 game.
But still the Tigers managed to hang around and finally started to find their bats in the bottom of the sixth for their rallying effort.
First, Williams caught a pitch for a single and was quickly followed by another base hit from junior right fielder Rylan Metz. Junior third baseman Brayton Gaines then came to the plate and connected for a third straight single, this one with enough juice to drive in sophomore pinch runner Caleb Bott (who was running for Williams) for the Tigers’ first run. A passed ball shortly after during senior left fielder Miller Abernathy’s plate appearance cleared the deck for Metz to come in and make it a one-score game. The Tigers then cleared the next three Raiders batters in the top of the seventh and the rest is heartbreak history.
Bell finished the game with six hits for four runs, three walks, and 10 strikeouts. He was also 2-for-3 with an RBI. LaGrange and Oxley each had an RBI. Morehead finished with five hits for three runs, four walks, and six strikeouts. Williams finished 2-for-4 with an RBI. Gaines finished 2-for-2 with an RBI and a walk.
“We played amazing,” said Bell. “I don’t know how to explain it. We did everything we should have. Those last couple of minutes, it’s nobody’s fault. It’s baseball, it’s life.”
One silver lining that can be cleaned is in the players that will be returning. With only three seniors graduating the Raiders will return most of their core that saw them make it to two straight state finals appearances. It’ll be a little while before spring ball comes around, but they will choose to look forward towards what could be in the coming seasons once the sting from this one fades away.
“A lot of those guys are coming back,” said Mattingly. “It looks bright. How bright depends on how hard they want to work. The coaching staff is going to bust their tails to be the best coaches we could possibly be, and get them ready to be back on this stage.”
“We’ll be fine,” added Bell. “We’re losing three amazing brothers. I’ll miss them so much. But that’s what life is, you lose people and gain some special ones too. We’ll be okay, we just have to adapt.”
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