The showdown between Reservoir and Atholton baseball Tuesday evening shaped up to be a battle of great hitting vs. great pitching.
Atholton (9-0 in league play) was batting better than .400 through the first 10 games, while Reservoir (10-0) had allowed only 14 runs in that same span.
As it turned out, both teams hit well, both teams pitched well, and Atholton won, 3-2, by playing better baseball in the seventh inning. The Raiders turned a slick double play to end the top of the seventh, and then scored the winning run on a walk-off 1-out single by Dan McCann in the bottom of the inning.
"We knew coming into the season that this game would be huge, but we didn't expect it to be 9-0 vs. 9-0, we didn't know it was going to be a county championship kind of game," said Atholton senior Michael Slayton, who allowed two runs on nine hits, five walks and one hit batter in seven innings. "From now we want to keep a 0 in the loss column so we're going to attack every game like it's a Reservoir game, we're that hungry. I'm sure they're going to try to fight back but if we can keep that 0 then we'll be good."
Recent history indicated that it would be a close game.
In the past five seasons, Atholton and Reservoir have met 10 times, splitting wins evenly, 5-5, with each game decided by three runs or less, including three one-run games. Atholton has outscored Reservoir, 37 runs to 35, in those meetings.
"I marked off April 22 on my calendar back in January and I was looking forward to this game for months," Slayton said. "It feels a lot better now to win in this fashion."
Reservoir scored first, in the third inning, when Joey Janush drew a leadoff walk, advanced to third on a double up the third base line by Danny O'Hagan, and scored on a wild pitch. The Gators loaded the bases with only one out on walks by Jack Barry and Joe Kearney, but Slayton wriggled out of the jam with one of his eight strikeouts and a line drive out to right fielder Matt Gross.
"I came out this year with a more calm and focused mindset," said Slayton, who lost to the Gators, 8-5, last year. "I attacked the zone hard but intelligently. I didn't want to give them too many easy pitches to hit, but I also had great help behind me ... I was moving fastball around the plate ... I just wanted to attack the zone and put it in play, I knew my fielders could make the plays ... I kept it down. They just hit ground balls and we got out of the innings."
The Raiders offense immediately rewarded Slayton in the bottom of the third when leadoff man Brady Acker battled for a two-out base on balls, then scored on a Phil Frazier double into the right center field gap. Frazier then scored when he stole third base and scampered home when the throw from home sailed into left field.
Gators ace Cody Morris (10 Ks) went the distance in the game, allowing only two earned runs on four hits and two walks.
"That's classic Cody, that's what you get out of the kid," Reservoir coach Adam Leader said. "He's straight bulldog, he wants the ball and gets in there and throws his heart out. Unfortunately we didn't win this game because he deserved better."
Reservoir rallied to tie the game in the top of the fifth, when Joe Kearney singled to center field and advanced all the way to third on a two-base fielding error, then scored on an RBI single by pinch hitter Jeremy Harris. Seven different Reservoir hitters collected base hits in the loss.
"Up and down the lineup we hit the ball," Leader said. "They had some great plays but we lacked the ability to put a ball in play when we needed it ... 9 out of 10 times we win this game."
Both teams made outstanding defensive plays late in the game. Acker hit a leadoff double to deep right center in the sixth, but was cut down at third on a perfect relay from right fielder Tony Grabow to Janush at second base to third baseman Jack Barry.
"That was my mistake, I shouldn't have sent him, especially with no outs," coach Jon Dupski said. "I saw him slow up around second and still told him to come. They had a great throw though, it was a great relay and they got him ... before that inning that I apologized for making the mistake and they came through for me."
In the top of the seventh, Harris drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a single by Paul Quattrone, who also doubled in the second. But Slayton then fielded a sharp comebacker to the mound, and spun and threw to freshman shortstop Jordan Patterson, who fired to sophomore first baseman Blake James, who made a clean backhand snag off the dirt to complete the double play.
Slayton led off the bottom of the seventh, and roped a line drive single to center field on an 0-1 count for his first hit of the game.
"I was adjusting the first couple at bats, I wanted to pick up (Morris') speed. Walking up as the first batter in the seventh inning I was excited. I was going for the fences as my swing probably illustrated," Slayton said. "When he saw that I think he thought I was digging for another fastball, so I sat on an off speed pitch and he gave me a change up down the middle so I hit it into center field."
James then effectively laid down a sacrifice bunt to move courtesy runner Bryan Gsell to second, setting up second baseman Dan McCann's walkoff single through the right side of the infield.