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May 9, 2014

Big Four Classic baseball: Pats hang on to top Braves

TERRE HAUTE — After five and a half innings of Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, Big Four and Golden Glove traveling trophy high school baseball Friday night at Don Jennings Field, the story had apparently already been written: Austin Hicks pitching a masterpiece in a game decided by one pitch.

Then North-South broke out.

Host Terre Haute North, already leading 2-0, scratched its way to two more runs in the bottom of the sixth on three hit batsmen and two flukish hits.

What seemed like an embarrassment of riches for Hicks proved to be anything but, however. Terre Haute South rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh, and only a spectacular defensive play by freshman shortstop Austin Turner — with the tying run on its way home from third — ended the game 4-3.

“What a great game,” coach Shawn Turner of North said shortly afterward. “It was a great game for the whole community. Two teams trying to play the best they could … just a good night for baseball.”

“A great ballgame. A good game all around,” coach Kyle Kraemer of the Braves agreed, not long after vigorously disputing the play that resulted in North’s two sixth-inning runs. “Fun to watch, fun to be a part of.”

The two pitchers had most of the fun early. Hicks, who threw 141 pitches a little over a year ago in completing a suspended Thursday game — with a loss — followed by a two-hitter for a Friday win, breezed through the first six frames with just 63 pitches on this Friday, and South’s Timmy Herrin was one pitch away from being equally good.

Herrin survived a leadoff double by Lane Dransfield in the bottom of the third, but walked the dangerous T.J. Collett leading off the fourth and with two out faced Cody Maloon. The junior left fielder pounded a 2-2 pitch for a no-doubt-about-it homer and North had the lead.

“It was a fastball. Inner third [of the plate],” Maloon said after the game, recalling his first varsity homer. “I knew it was coming.”

Hicks didn’t allow a hit out of the infield until two out in the top of the fifth, when Ryen Millsap followed up Conner Shipley’s two-out infield single with a soft liner to center. Hicks made a big defensive play on Trey McCue’s attempt to bunt for a hit that ended that inning, however, and a two-out double by Justin Jenkins in the sixth went for naught when Collett bounced out from behind the plate to throw out Austin Slover on a topped roller.

“Last year I tried striking all of [the Braves] out; I was all about me last year,” Hicks said after the game. “I wanted to get my defense involved this year … and it was our best defensive game, probably our best in my four years [at North]. I trusted every single one, every single inning.”

Collett also started North’s sixth-inning rally, this time by being the first Patriot brushed by a pitch. Nathan Will dropped a popup into right field for a single, and one out later Maloon was also plunked to load the bases.

With two out, Dransfield hit a slow roller in a no-man’s land between first and second. Herrin — covering first — and Dransfield arrived at the bag almost simultaneously, and the umpire ruled that Herrin’s foot hadn’t been on the bag, the impetus for the argument. Keaton Booth, running for Will and never stopping, scored a second run on the play.

Hicks gave up his first walk of the game to Herrin leading off the seventh, however, and Mitch Clinkenbeard followed with a soft line drive for a double down the right-field line. Millsap’s one-out single brought in a run, pinch-hitter Grant Ellis hooked a double down the right-field line for another, and Jacob Johnson’s grounder made it 4-3 with two out and a man at third.

With a 2-2 count, Jared Wolfe flared a soft liner toward left that looked for all the world like a game-tying single. Austin Turner had other ideas, however, and made a back-handed diving catch well into the outfield to end the game.

“I was waiting for Hicks to give [Wolfe] a good pitch to hit … and thank goodness I got a great jump on it. I want to do all I can for these seniors,” the coach’s son said afterward.

“That was great for him and great for his teammates,” Shawn Turner agreed. “I know I’m not pleasing everybody [by playing my son] but I think he’s the best option we have at shortstop.”

“That game-ending play? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better one,” Hicks said. “[The Braves] played a heck of a game too. They were not going to go down easy; they’re too good a team.”

“It was quite a pitchers’ duel,” Kraemer noted. “We tried to combat [Hicks] with a bunch of [left-handed hitters], but we didn’t have many good swings until the last inning.”

“We did great defensively, Hicks had a good game,” Maloon said. “We were trying to do too much at the plate early, but later we settled down. It was a team effort.”

While many lauded North’s infield for its work all game long — second baseman Jonathan Eilbracht also had a couple of gems and Will started a double play — coach Turner said he wasn’t surprised.

“This was close to how we’ve played most of the year,” he insisted. “These guys really seem to concentrate [defensively] when we have a big game, and tonight we got enough breaks to go our way to get a win.”

A few members of the 1974 North state championship team were honored before the game along with Jennings, and stayed afterward to present the glove trophy. “It was nice to win with the state champions in attendance,” coach Turner said.

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