MOUNT VERNON — Sometimes winning isn’t pretty. That’s the lesson learned by the Mount Vernon All-Stars at the Little League District 5 Tournament on Wednesday night.
Facing Cambridge in the winner’s bracket final at Phillips Park, Mount Vernon overcame itself and the opposition for a 10-6 victory and a spot in the championship game on Friday night.
“A good word for this is battle,” said Mount Vernon manager Phil Arck. “We battled until the end, and we ended up winning. Ryan Fitzgerald did a great job on the mound. He struggled a little bit, but he persevered. When we made the change (on the mound), he made some plays at third base. He picked himself right up. ... The keyword is battle. We had three errors and we threw the ball around a lot. We can’t have that. That will cost you down the road.”
Mount Vernon never trailed in the game, and held a 9-3 lead entering the bottom of the fourth inning, but a few errors and timely hits helped Cambridge climb back into the contest. Three runs in the bottom of the fourth cut the lead to three, the closest any opponent in the tournament has been to Mount Vernon in the later innings. Mount Vernon fought off Cambridge, adding a single run in the sixth to seal the win.
Both teams threatened in the first inning, but neither was able to take advantage. Mount Vernon had back-to-back singles from J.D. Orr and Alex Arck to lead off the game. Griffin Menke moved Orr to third on a fielder’s choice, but both were stranded. Cambridge got a single from Terry Neff in its half of the inning, only to see Ryan Fitzgerald strike out the next two batters to end the threat.
Mount Vernon finally got on the board in the top of the second. Tyler Galbraith singled to lead off and moved to second on a one-out single from Dakota Back. Galbraith came around to score on a fielding error in left on the play. Tyler Hedrick walked to bring up Orr, who singled to center. The ball was misplayed and the runners advanced, but a great relay got Back at the plate to save a run.
Arck then walked to load the bases and Menke hit an RBI single, scoring Hedrick. Fitzgerald then blasted a bases-clearing triple to right-center field and put Mount Vernon up, 5-0.
“I just wanted to hit the ball; I went out there relaxed and did what I’ve been taught,” said Fitzgerald.
Cambridge managed to get two back in the bottom of the inning on just one hit. A single by Riley Hayhurst and two walks sandwiched between strikeouts provided the runners. Hayhurst scored on a wild pitch, and Christian Tetirick, who had walked, scored on a passed ball. The inning could have been much worse, but a great play on a passed ball nailed Jordan Bell at third base.
Mount Vernon continued to build its lead, scoring two runs in each of the third and fourth innings. An RBI single by Orr and an error in left plated its third inning tallies, while a two-RBI double to deep center by Galbraith scored two more in the fourth off Cambridge starter Terry Neff.
Cambridge took one run back in the bottom of the third, scoring off a Mount Vernon error and a passed ball. The real tension breaker came in the fourth, however.
Fitzgerald started the inning, but had just 10 pitches left. After going to a 3-0 count on the lead-off batter, Greg Dennis came on to relieve Fitzgerald, and walked both that batter and the next. An error on a fielder’s choice play allowed a run to score, and Neff followed with a two-run single to left. Neff advanced to third after an error on the ball.
“He was throwing good pitches. We just needed to help him out a little bit and we didn’t,” said manager Arck of Dennis.
At that point, Dennis was pulled in favor of Alex Arck, who came one in a tough spot — a runner on third and no outs. Arck caught a break when Neff tried to score on a passed ball in the next at-bat. Orr fielded it and threw to Arck, who was covering home plate, and applied the tag. Arck then proceeded to strike out the next two batters to end the inning.
“The crowd was pretty hyper and they were getting pumped up, so that just made me even madder,” said Arck. “I just wanted to throw better and shut them down. ... I felt pretty good tonight. I was throwing harder than I normally do and my curveball was working pretty good.”
“I just kept thinking, ‘Buckle down and start throwing strikes,’” Fitzgerald said. “It is great to have teammates that can pick you up. When (Arck) came in, I knew the game was over.”
Both teams stranded runners in scoring position in the fifth inning; Mount Vernon on fielding plays and Cambridge on strikeouts by Arck. Mount Vernon added a big insurance run in the top of the sixth. Galbraith walked to lead off, and following a strike out by Nick Ford, who came on in the fifth, Kevin McClain came through with his first hit of the tournament. The single to center scored Galbraith easily and put Mount Vernon ahead, 10-6.
“I think the other guys stepping up) was the key to winning the game tonight,” said manager Arck. “We had a couple of kids go down looking tonight, and that’s tough. We were leaving people on board, which hurts. Kevin McClain’s hit was huge, to be able to get that extra run in there. That’s what we need.”
Arck set down the side in order to notch the save. Fitzgerald picked up the win, allowing three runs on two hits and five walks. He struck out seven. Arck allowed just one hit and struck out five. At the plate, Galbraith finished 2-for-2 with two runs scored and two RBI. Orr was 3-for-5 with one run scored and one RBI; Arck finished 2-for-4 with one run scored.
“This feels great because Cambridge is a big rival,” said Arck. “It is nice to say we can beat them. It is a lot of fun.”
“We were ready for them,” said Fitzgerald. “They are a really solid baseball team.”
Hayhurst and Neff each had two hits to lead Cambridge, and Neff had two RBI. In 4 1/3 innings pitched, Neff allowed nine runs on 10 hits and four walks, striking out two. Nick Ford pitched the final 1 2/3 innings, giving up one run on two hits and two walks while striking out two.
With the loss, Cambridge drops into the loser’s bracket final on Thursday, facing Southwest Licking at 7 p.m. at Phillips Park. The winner then moves on to the championship, taking on Mount Vernon on Friday. The game time is set for 6 p.m., with an second game — if needed — scheduled for 8 p.m.