The West Hall baseball team made up for a lackluster start with an unforgettable finish.
The Spartans scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings before securing an 8-7 eight-inning victory against rival East Hall in the teams’ Region 7-AAA opener on a rainy Monday night at Spartan Field in Oakwood.
Merritt Gasaway’s safety squeeze bunt back to the pitcher gave pinch runner Austin Henderson enough time to sprint home for the winning run with one out in the bottom of the eighth.
“With a lot of new faces that we have this year, it gave our guys an opportunity to stay in the game, hang around and now see that they can come back and they can win games like this and we do have the talent level to be successful,” West Hall coach Dustin Rennspies said.
Elijah Butler led off the bottom of the eighth with a single, and Henderson took over for him on the base paths.
Henderson reached second on a wild pitch and took third on Trey Horton’s well-placed sacrifice bunt down the third-base line.
Then Gasaway stepped in and executed his bunt perfectly to set off a postgame celebration for the Spartans (3-3, 1-0).
“It was definitely exciting,” said Gasaway of the comeback. “It’s something that you don’t get a chance to do a lot.”
A Brian Newman walk, a Butler single and Horton being hit by a pitch loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the seventh for West Hall. Gasaway followed with an RBI single to the center-field fence, and Carter Lott’s sacrifice fly and a wild pitch allowed the Spartans to pull within 7-6.
Josh Anderson tied the game, which East Hall led 4-0 through an inning, for the first time since the start with his groundout to shortstop. A hit batsman and a walk loaded the bases again before the Vikings’ Cole Smith got a strikeout to escape the jam.
Spartans junior pitcher Kyle Reynolds allowed a double to Jack Hagwood before getting a strikeout to end the top of the eighth. Three days after tossing a no-hitter against Johnson, his third of an inning gave Reynolds another pitching win.
Horton’s 2 1/3 innings of relief began with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the sixth after all five of the batters Charlie Cochran faced reached base. After a wild pitch allowed a run to score and he walked a batter, Horton retired consecutive East Hall batters as the Vikings left the bases loaded in the sixth. Horton, a junior, struck out three with one walk.
“I don’t think the situation’s too big for him,” Rennspies said of Horton. “I think he’s got some confidence, and that’s huge. You hold the rope there. You keep us within four runs.”
Senior starter Will Simmons went five innings for West Hall with 12 strikeouts while allowing two hits, four walks and a hit batsman.
“He held us in the game and gave us an opportunity and kept us within striking distance,” Rennspies said. “And as a No. 1 guy, sometimes you’re not going to walk out there with your best stuff. So what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to compete and you’ve got to fight, and he did a good job of that.”
The Vikings (1-5, 0-1) took the lead with a four-run first inning, with the only hit in that frame coming on an RBI double from Tripp Rider. Two passed balls and a wild pitch helped East Hall take a 4-0 lead.
Starting with the final batter of the first, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Simmons retired 10 out of 11 batters. That included striking out the side in the second and fourth and 1-2-3 innings in the third and fourth.
“We stayed with it,” Simmons said. “The last three or four innings, we came back. We stayed together as a family. That’s what we always say: We’re a family. That’s really nice. We all just had some clutch hits and great pitching at the end.”
East Hall junior Eli Stuart tossed six-plus innings before being pulled following a lead-off walk in the bottom of the seventh. Stuart struck out seven with four walks and five hits allowed in a no-decision.
“West Hall’s a good team,” East Hall coach Wesley Crow said. “They fought their way back through the later innings, and they just kept swinging. That’s all you can ask for.
“I think it helps especially because we had some younger guys in the game today. And it gave our pitcher Eli Stuart a ton of confidence. I mean, the kid pitched his butt off.”
West Hall scored twice in the second inning on botched rundowns between first and second with another runner crossing the plate from third each time. The Vikings and Spartans each scored one run in the fifth before East Hall’s two-run sixth pushed the lead to 7-3.
Smith took the loss, allowing four runs on four hits, two walks and two hit batsmen with one strikeout.
East Hall hosts Fannin County at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, and West Hall visits Franklin County at 5:55 p.m. Wednesday.