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By Dean Barker
In a battle of the second and third place teams, the Montezuma Braves clawed back from a 4-0 deficit in the top of the fifth to beat the New Market Shockers 6-5 on a Hunter Clever walk off two-run single. With the win, the Braves improved to 4-1, and are just half a game behind the first place Broadway Bruins. The Shockers fell to 5-3, but maintained their spot in second place.
Elijah Dunlap picked up the win for the Braves to improve to 1-1 on the season. Dunlap pitched the eighth and ninth innings, allowing no runs, two hits, two walks, and throwing two strikeouts. Matt House took the loss for the Shockers, giving up two fatal unearned runs in the ninth.
The game started out with missed offensive opportunities, as both the Shockers and the Braves would load the bases with one out and strand all three runners in the second. However, the Shockers would add one in the third, as Pearce Bucher would reach on a single and later score on a wild pitch from Braves starter Lance Tate.
Following two 1-2-3 innings from Shockers starter Kaden Spaid, New Market would add what looked like a solid cushion in the top of the fifth. After two errors would put Frankie Ritter and Bucher on base with one out, a House single to left was bobbled by left fielder Kyle Armstrong, allowing both runners to come home. House would steal second and move to third on a sacrifice groundout from Spaid, and Harrison Madagan would hit a fly ball that Armstrong would drop, allowing House to score and make it 4-0 Shockers.
Montezuma would cut the lead in half in the bottom of the fifth, as Logan Jones was hit by a pitch to start the inning, took second on a passed ball, and scored on a single from Owen Marshall. Marshall took third on a passed ball and came home on a sacrifice groundout from Michael Robertson, making the score 4-2 Shockers. New Market would respond in the top of the sixth, as Ritter drove in Luke Keister with a sacrifice fly to center to make the score 5-2.
The Braves would once again chip away in the bottom of the seventh, as Robertson’s single to right would drive in Wyatt Campbell, pinch running for Marshall after a hit by pitch. Robertson would move up on a dropped third strike, and come home on a RBI double from Isiah Blanks. On a wild ball four, Clever took first base and Blanks moved to third. Shockers reliever Cade Templeton failed to pick off Clever at first, but Keister would throw out Blanks as he attempted to steal home for the second time of the season.
The Shockers almost put the game out of reach in the top of the eighth, loading the bases with just one out. However, Dunlap was able to get Bucher to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to stop the threat. Templeton would give up a single to designated hitter PJ Hanisak in the bottom of the eighth, but would strike out the next three batters swinging. Templeton left after two innings of two runs, three hits, a walk and four strikeouts.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth Robertson would reach first on a throwing error by Bucher, but the fence kept it from leaving the field and giving him second base, which he would then reach on a wild pitch. Armstrong would hit a grounder that Bucher just couldn’t handle, and would put him on first, with Robertson staying put. Blanks hit a ball to deep center field, but Henry Delavergne was there to make the catch. Robertson would move to third, while Armstrong stayed put. On the first pitch to Clever, he would steal second uncontested. With the count two and two, Clever ripped a grounder past a diving Bucher. Robertson would score easily, and Luke Estep’s throw home was just too late to stop Armstrong from scoring the winning run.
New Market shot themselves in the foot with eleven runners left on base, while accumulating eight hits and eight walks. The two latter numbers outdid Montezuma, who had just seven hits and four walks, while leaving eight runners on base.
House went 1-5 with two RBIs and a run scored to lead the Shockers in defeat. He was helped by Bucher, who went 2-3 with two walks and two runs scored. Clever went 2-4 with a walk and two RBIs. Robertson went 1-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
Clever said he wanted to win this game for his teammates.
“I really just wanted to not let my teammates down,” Clever told RCBL’s Dean Barker. “There was a lot of pressure going into this game, and we fought the entire game, made a lot of great plays, and I just wanted to get it done for them.”
Montezuma will have Thursday night off before taking on the first place, defending RCBL champion Broadway Bruins. Clever thinks the Braves will need to be resilient to get the job done Friday, June 25 at 7:30.
“Once they punch on us, we’ve gotta punch them back, and we’ve gotta take advantage of every opportunity we get,” Clever said. “(We) can’t leave runners in scoring position, and (we’ve) gotta make the simple plays behind the pitcher.”
The Shockers will travel to The Diamond Club Saturday, June 26 when they take on the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks at 7:30.
To view the walkoff footage and the full interview with Hunter Clever, click here.
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