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Wildcats down Mustangs for share of first place
Wildcat Pitching coach Zach Grage makes a visit to chat with Matt Schlag in the sixth inning at South Effingham. - photo by Terry Logan

Richmond Hill entered its game with South Effingham on Friday with two objectives in mind. Number one - win the game. Number two - save enough pitching for the grueling four game week to come. Head coach Mitchell Curry, thanks to a well executed pitching plan and ten timely hits, can mark those objectives off. Mission accomplished: Richmond Hill 5, South Effingham 4.

Scott Strickland got his second start against the Mustangs. In the first meeting, Strickland had his only bad outing of the season and Richmond Hill managed only one hit in a 10-0 shut out. Friday’s start was a study in contrast. Strickland struck out three and gave up only one hit in a, pitch count limited, two innings of work. Strickland so wanted to continue that he pleaded with coach Curry after he had reached that 40 pitch limit. He even contributed to his own cause with a first inning RBI double to give his team an early lead, but Curry had a plan, and he was going to stick to it.

After scoring another run in the second inning with the help of a Mustang error, the Wildcats gave their slim two run lead to a reliever. Alex Tucker took the mound to start the third and got the first two batters on fly balls and struck out the next. It was a good start, but Tucker left one of those fly balls up in the strike zone and Josh Futch had to run it down at the fence in deep left field. It was an omen to the next inning’s action.

Two singles and then another ball up in the zone turned in to a long home run by South Effingham’s Phillip Unser and gave the Mustangs a 3-2 lead. Tucker settled down nicely afterward and got three ground ball outs to prevent further damage. For the moment, it seemed the platoon pitching strategy might not be good enough against the Mustangs.

South Effingham, who also has a busy schedule the following week, seemed to be putting all their eggs in one basket. A Mustang win would virtually lock up the region title, so their ace pitcher, Jesse Osborne, was in the game to apparently go the distance. A Wildcat win would tie the region but leave the Mustangs with the tiebreaker advantage of run differential in the head to head match ups. However, the Mustangs will now have to face an always dangerous Benedictine team on Tuesday, apparently, without Osborne being available.

This was a different Wildcat team than Osborne had breezed through earlier in the season and his new one run lead would not be easy to hold on to.

The Wildcats loaded the bases with no one out in the fifth inning on three consecutive singles by Matt Schlag, Nathan Kilburn, and a perfectly laid bunt by Aaron Pittsley. But what was an excellent opportunity turned in to nothing when Osborne got two harmless ground balls to a drawn in infield and a strikeout to get out of the jam. Richmond Hill would need to hold the score and hope they could strike later. Enter their third pitcher in Curry’s quadrangle, Dustin Mitchell.

Mitchell worked around the only Wildcat error of the night by getting two strikeouts and a pop up on the infield. It was just what Richmond Hill needed. Osborne’s pitch count was getting up and, after seeing their ace load the bases the inning before, South Effingham elected to make a pitching change of their own.

SE’s Ryan Cole, in recovery from Tommy John surgery last year, was in to face Josh Futch and then the top of the Wildcat line up. Futch drew a lead off walk then stole second base, then Scott Strickland (2-2 2B, 2 RBI’s) tied the game with an RBI single. The Wildcat bench had new life and another new pitcher would have to finish.

Matt Schlag would offer a startling contrast to what the Mustang hitters faced through the middle of the game - nothing but heat. The Richmond Hill senior (3-1) worked a scoreless sixth inning to set up the game’s final drama in the seventh.

Aaron Pittsley (3-4 2B) led off the inning with a single. After a sacrifice bunt failed to move him, freshman short stop Steven Boaen hit what was probably one of the biggest singles of his young career to right field to move Pittsley to second. A fielders choice ground out put Josh Futch (2-3 2B RBI) at the plate with two out and runners on the corner.

Ryan got two quick strikes against Futch, but the Richmond Hill senior turned it into a long dramatic at bat by spoiling pitch after pitch with foul balls. Finally, he drove a fast ball just out of the reach of a diving short stop to give the Wildcats back the lead. After a pitching change, Dustin Mitchell, who moved to third on the play, would score what turned out to be the winning run on a wild pitch.

With a two run lead, Schlag’s job was simple: throw strikes. The Richmond Hill senior did just that, sticking with his fastball he got two outs early but a Mustang double drove in a run and got the crowd and both benches to their feet as he faced the next batter. Schlag came right after him and coaxed a ground ball to second to end the game, making him the winner of record but one he will gladly share with his other three pitching comrades.

Mission accomplished.

Curry spoke afterward of the psychological importance of playing well against South Effingham, win or lose, to prove to his team that they are good enough to win in a play-off type atmosphere, and Friday night's drama was surely that.

Richmond Hill, which also got a gift on Saturday when Hephzibah failed to make the trip south and had to forfeit, is now 13-5, 5-1 in region 3S-AAA. They have key games this weekend at home. Friday 6 p.m. vs. Benedictine and Saturday 1 p.m. vs. Burke.

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