Leonard game winner not enough for state title
On Tuesday, at the Jonathan D. Hollingsworth Memorial Field in Lewisburg, skipper Mike Tatum and his band of 14-year-old Marshall County Babe Ruth all-stars wanted to give the hometown crowd something to cheer about after being sent to the state tournament loser's bracket the night before by Lawrenceburg.
They did, for one game at least.
After falling behind 3-0 versus Lebanon in the loser's bracket final, Marshall County chipped away at the lead until Chapel Hill's Blake Leonard delivered a dramatic, seventh inning game winning hit that scored Lewisburg's Connor Bush from second base to cap off a 4-3 Venom win over the Lions.
Leonard also bashed a second inning homerun to spark the comeback and Cornersville lefty David Looney turned in a gutty, sparkling effort on the hill for Tatum.
Looney surrendered three runs (two earned) on two hits in the top of the first inning and then slammed the door shut for a complete game victory.
Looney tossed his second consecutive five-hitter, while striking out eleven and walking two in the win that sent the Venom to the finals, where they were disposed of in easy fashion by longtime nemesis Lawrenceburg 19-2.
Looney issued a free pass to Lebanon third baseman Justin Huggins to leadoff the loser's bracket final before Colton Morris drilled a triple to the fence in right field, scoring Huggins.
Dusty Meador followed with a run scoring single up the middle to make it 2-0.
Josh Hilliard bounced out to Zach Gordon at short, but a throw to nail Meador advancing to third went awry and Meador trotted home on the first baseman's error to make it three-zip.
A fly out to Kurt Taylor in left and a line drive back to Looney for the third out ended the inning.
With two outs in the bottom of the first, Lebanon hurler Tyler Bush threw up a floating knuckleball to Leonard that was quickly deposited over the left field fence to make 3-1.
"The second baseman and shortstop told me later that it was the first knuckleball he (Bush) had thrown in a real game," said Leonard. "It wasn't that good, about waist high. I didn't know it was gone, because I was running so hard to first base."
Looney also walked the first Lions' batter in the top of the second, but wiped out the next three batters on strikeouts to begin a stretch of eight strikeouts in ten hitters faced by the young lefty.
Marshall County scored an unearned run in the bottom of the second to cut the Lebanon lead to 3-2 as Harmon reached on an error and ended up on second base on the bad throw from the shortstop.
A fielder's choice grounder by Dunn Crowder sent Harmon to third and Taylor drove in the MC backstop on another fielder's choice to short.
The Venom left two runners stranded on base in the third inning versus Bush, who left the game in the fourth.
Grant Partow came to the hill for Bush and struck out three Venom batters to preserve the 3-2 lead for Lebanon in the next frame.
Looney had no serious trouble in the fifth, thanks to catcher Chandler Harmon, who nailed Huggins for the third out, trying to steal second base after reaching on a Marshall County infield error.
Connor Bush led off the bottom of the fifth with a base hit for the Venom and stole second base.
Partow struck out the next MC batter, but walked Leonard to make it first and second.
Brooks Leftwich came in to run for Leonard and trotted to second as Bush went to third on a passed ball with Tanner Garvin at the plate.
Partow struck out Garvin, but with Harmon at the plate, Partow wheeled to try to pick-off Leftwich at second and threw the ball into center field and Bush touched home with the tying run.
In the top of the sixth, Colton Morris slapped a leadoff single to center before Looney set down the next three Lions' batters in a row to end the inning.
It was ditto for Marshall County in the home half of the inning with Dunn Crowder singling in the leadoff spot before Nolan Allison, in relief of Partow, managed three outs in a row, sending the ballgame to the fateful seventh inning.
Allison was first up in the inning and singled to left field before Looney got a pop-up to Crowder at second for the first out.
Jake Millay came up with a pinch-hit base hit, putting runners on first and second before the defensive play of the game took place when Harmon gunned down Allison trying to advance to third on a loose ball near the plate.
Looney came up huge, striking out the next batter to end the threat.
Connor Bush reached on a Lebanon error at third base to begin the bottom of the seventh and advanced to second on a passed ball with Zach Gordon at the plate.
Allison managed to get a strikeout before Leonard stepped in and drilled the second pitch from Allison into the left/center field gap that sent Bush home with the winning run.
"He (Allison) threw a curveball the first pitch and then threw it again the next pitch and I just hit it," said Leonard. "I really wasn't thinking about anything at the plate, I did most of my thinking in the dugout before I came to bat."
In the title game versus undefeated Lawrenceburg, Marshall County never got off the ground as they gave up seven runs in the first, three in the second, three in the third, and six more in the fourth to get swamped too deep in a hole at 19-0.
Lawrenceburg batted around in each of those innings.
The hometown squad scored twice in the bottom of the fifth before the game ended on the ten-run, mercy rule.
Lawrenceburg travels to Greenville, North Carolina for the South East Region Tournament, beginning on July 28.