Stayin’ Alive: Cards win extra inning thriller to advance in region tourney

Published 3:49 pm Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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By Matt Cizek

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The late Chicago Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray once quipped when calling an intense game, “If you’ve got a weak heart, turn the set off!” 

Such was the feeling during Tuesday night’s 10th Region quarterfinal game between George Rogers Clark and Mason County. 

Led by Caden Spicer’s seven RBIs and clutch relief pitching from Keyonte Back, the Cardinals came back from five-run deficit to defeat the Royals 10-9 in a wild nine-inning contest. 

It was the Cards’ first 10th Region Tournament matchup to see extra innings since 2015.

“[In] 21 years, that’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” said GRC Head Coach Chris Varney. “Our kids never quit tonight. They just stayed in it and came and picked each other up.” 

After being shut out by Montgomery County in the 40th District Championship game, the Cards found their offensive groove early on.

A four-run first inning, led by Spicer’s two-run RBI double, propelled them to an early lead. 

However, it quickly evaporated when Mason County – winners of ten of their last 11 contests – managed to put nine runs across the board for a five-run lead. 

Yet, the Cards struck back on an improbable rally in the fifth inning. 

Following back-to-back strikeouts to lead off the frame, three walks loaded the bases for Spicer. On the second pitch of his at-bat, the sophomore promptly hit the ball over the fence in left-center field, thereby narrow the gap to a single run. 

“I was just going up there trying to hit the ball. I wasn’t trying to do too much,” Spicer said. “It just went my way. I barreled that ball up, and it went over.” 

With GRC still down one run in the bottom of the sixth, the Royals looked to be on the verge of scoring again as they had the bases loaded with only one out. 

However, after bringing in reliever Keyonte Back – a decision that proved to be crucial – the Cards were able to induce a force-out at home plate and a strikeout to keep Mason County off the scoreboard. 

In the top of the seventh, with the Cards one out away from having their season end, senior Spencer Stocker charged for third base. An errant throw by the Royals catcher brought him to home plate, thus forcing extra innings. 

“We have a couple guys who can run,” Spicer said. “I think all of us are offensive leaders.” 

After a scoreless bottom of the seventh and eighth inning from both teams, the Cards had Nick Huff in scoring position during the top of the ninth and Caden Spicer coming to the plate. 

True to form, he hit a go-ahead RBI double to right field. 

Leading by one run in the bottom of the ninth, the Cards found themselves in some peril with two outs after one runner had reached on an error and another was walked to put the winning run at first base. 

However, Back’s full-count pitch to the Royals’ cleanup hitter was called for strike three, sending the GRC dugout and fan section into a frenzy. 

In 3.2 innings pitched, Back allowed no hits while striking out nine. 

“I just wanted to do what I could to help my team win,” Back said. “I really didn’t feel any pressure. Play my game, and focus on me and the catcher.” 

With the win, the Cards moved their record to 20-13. They will take on no. one seed Nicholas County (25-8) in the 10th Region semifinals Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

After exceeding last year’s finish by advancing to the 40th District Championship game, the George Rogers Clark Cardinals looked to unseat the three-time defending champion Montgomery County Indians Friday night–unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

The Cards’ offense was held in check by Montgomery County pitching, while the Indians produced two powerful innings en route to a 6-0 victory.

“Momentum wasn’t on our side. It was just a snowball kind of effect,” GRC Head Coach Chris Varney said. “We got into a hole, and it was hard to fight back.”

The Cards got out of the first inning following an impressive double play on a line drive caught by first baseman Caden Spicer.

However, after two innings of scoreless baseball, the Indians were able to start a three-run third inning that began with the bottom half of their lineup at the plate.

In an act of dual misfortune for the Cards, an RBI double that just barely got past center fielder Carter Maynard to open the scoring also saw Maynard exited the game with tendonitis.

Several defensive and lineup changes took place to account for the on-field needs.

“I think if he’s healthy, he catches that ball … Carter is our energy guy. He’s been playing hurt the last few weeks” Varney said. “[Montgomery County] found some holes.”

While the offense of Montgomery County found success – including another three-run inning in the fifth – their pitching wasn’t to be overlooked.

Jack Blackburn had a solid outing, allowing four hits and striking out nine in a complete-game shutout.

“Changing speeds real well kept us off-balance and off stride,” Varney stated. “He was mixing it in and out and throwing some changes and curveballs. We just couldn’t find the barrel and get enough guys on base.”

Coming into the game, the Cards had won nine of ten contests – including a 3-0 win over Montgomery County during that stretch.

However, the Indians were – and remain – the lone 40th District opponent to defeat the Cards this year.

They entered the contest having nearly identical records, with Montgomery County at 17-12–now 18-12–and the Cards at 19-12–now 19-13.

The game had also been delayed twice following heavy rains on Wednesday and Thursday.

“I’m a coach, so I’m not one on making predictions. The team that plays the best will win,” Montgomery County Head Coach Gene Combs noted prior to the game. “In terms of us, we just have to do what we would normally do to compete.”

Despite the setback, the Cards continue in the playoff, as they head to the single-elimination 10th Regional Tournament at Harrison County High School this week.

They’ll begin with a matchup against Mason County (17-13) Monday night at 8:00 p.m., with the winner to take on the victor of the game between no. 1 seeded Nicholas County (22-9) and Bishop Brossart (17-16-1) on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. The next day, the championship game takes place at 6:30 pm, weather permitting.

“Of course you want to win the district, but at the end of the day, you’re still going to the regional tournament,” Coach Varney said. “We’re in the tournament, we’ve just got to win three games no matter who we get.”