Heroic rally lifts Indians

You’ve got to hand it to the Indian River baseball team; they never gave up when the chips where down, even though Brandywine held control of the state tournament opener for seven innings. But Indian River believed they could win even when some Brandywine fans were calling home on the way to the parking lot to spread the good word about their almost-win.

In the end, the Indians’ belief in themselves and each other paid off, and Indian River rallied around five solid innings of relief pitching by Trevor Abbott to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh, sending the game into extra innings, where they turned the tables on their exasperated opponent, winning the game 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth on a walk-off RBI single by who else — Abbott.

Starting pitcher Colin Warner and the Indians got into an early bases-loaded jam to start the game before giving up one run on a fielder’s choice. But Warner was able to negotiate his way through the inning by striking out the next two batters on six pitches, despite admittedly not have his best mechanics.

He battled through the second inning unharmed, but his lack of control got the better of him in the third and Brandywine was able to capitalize on the mistakes.

He plunked Bulldog pitcher Chris Lechette to leadoff the inning and, after falling behind 2-0 to cleanup batter David Levin, gave up a two-run homerun to deep centerfield.

Charlie McKinely reached base on a wide throw to first by Josh Dean and from there stole second base. He then advanced to third on David McKinely’s ground-out to first-bagger Mike Casale. Eric Whetham drove in McKinely for the Bulldogs’ fourth and final run on a fielder’s choice to second baseman Cameron Travalini.

Warner then plunked his third batter in as many innings, despite being ahead in the count 0-2 on two called strikes. But no more harm would come in the inning.

Brandywine’s next batter, Dan Myers, popped out to right fielder Zack Warner, to end the inning. But the damage signaled the end of Warner’s day on the mound, which made way for Abbott.

“I throw a lot harder than Trevor, so when he got in there they were all over the place,” Warner said. “He kept them off balance.”

The Indians’ young southpaw pitched five scoreless innings and struck out nine batters — five on swinging strikes. That included striking two of three in the fifth and the side in the sixth. He allowed only two hits and issued a single walk.

Abbott’s performance continued his dominance of upstate teams (his fourth win), marked his seventh win of the season and first state tournament win.

Indian River’s pitchers fought the hard uphill fight with little production from their offense until their seventh-inning explosion.

Their first three innings were three-up, three-down and they only mustered one more at-bat for the next three innings.

New life sprang from their slumbering bats, though, when Bryan Lynch motored around to second base like a dog was chasing him, to leadoff the seventh inning with a bloop shot to shallow right field.

“We didn’t come to play right away and we only had a couple hits (to that point),” Lynch said. “I sparked the team with a big hit and the team went from there.”

Warner, who had switched to first base after making way for Abbott, followed up by knocking Lynch in on a RBI single, then advance to second on the throw home. Leftfielder Thomas Veith hit a first-pitch fastball sharply past a poor backhand attempt by third baseman Whetham, giving the Indians runners on the corners with no outs.

Travalini drew a 3-1 walk, to load the bases, which signaled a pitching change.

Brandywine head coach Chuck Clausius pulled Lechette in favor of first baseman Zack Clark. But the change was to no avail.

Centerfielder Matt Williamson singled off the end of shortstop Rumeal Aubrey’s glove to score Warner, cutting Brandywine’s lead to 4-2. Zack Warner then hit a dying single to center field, scoring Veith, and again Clausius changed pitchers.

He switched his catcher, Levin, in to pitch. But Dean jumped all over his first pitch and reached base. He scored Travalini on an error by Aubrey to tie the game.

Levin steadied the ship and Brandywine was able to get a pair of base runners on with only one out. But a poor decision to have David McKinely steal third was thrwarted by a laser throw by Lynch for an awaiting tag by Barrientos and the final out.

In the seventh inning, Clausius sent No. 2 batter Shane Lechette home on a suicide squeeze with one out. But Chris Lechette’s bunt attempt missed altogether and Lynch ran down the hanging base runner for the second out. One pitch later, Lechette doubled to right-center field for what might have been the game-winning run, despite the Indians’ best efforts.

That’s the game of baseball and Clausius was, no doubt, doing what he thought was best for his team to win the game. Unfortunately for them, Williamson was able to get a leadoff walk. That gave head coach Howard Smack the speed to put his team in a position to score — which he did with a stolen base on a hit-and-run attempt on Dean’s at-bat.

Dean had doubled and singled earlier in the game but struck out on a high pitch, leaving a pressure-packed situation for Abbott.

Abbott turned on a ball that just missed fair territory and would’ve been the game-winner at the end of regulation. But now he had another chance.

“Trevor was unconscious today,” Smack said. “He was making me nervous by pacing around (the dugout) and I told him to calm down. But he said he was ready to play. He knew he wanted to play and came to hit the ball. What more can ask from a sophomore?”

“I was angry because I wanted to get a hit there,” Abbott said about missing the game-winner at the end of regulation. “I came out on the ball, so next time I wanted to stay on the ball.”

After taking a strike and fouling one out of play, Abbott ripped a walk-off RBI-single to the outfield to score a streaming Williamson from second and win the game.

“I gave them the same speech at the Cape game last year: ‘We need four to tie and five to win,’ and they showed plenty of heart desire and hustle — 100 percent effort,” Smack said as he bounced with excitement following the win. “Nobody ever got down and we got some clutch hitting. And then it finally started coming around. Then it was contagious.”

Last year, Indian River wasn’t able to get over the hump in their first-round game and lost 5-4 to Newark.

No. 6 seed Indian River (15-5) will play No. 3 seed William Penn (19-1) at Delaware State on May 25 (after the Coastal Point went to press this week) and if they win again would play the winner of the game between No. 2 seed Salesianum (18-2) and No. 7 seed McKean ( 15-5).