Red Raiders’ season ends in State Quarters
Reilly Taylor’s right hand went up signaling timeout, but the home plate umpire ignored it. The action resumed uninterrupted. Never before has Montgomery been so devastated that a hitter did not receive timeout. Never before has Greenwood been so excited….
Baseball can be wild, unpredictable, frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time. That fifth-inning sequence proved it. Montgomery seemed confused, thinking that time was granted and Brayden Strouse’s two-strike pitch bounced before heading toward the backstop. Pinch-runner Isaac Myers scored what became the winning run and Greenwood won an exciting Class A state quarterfinal, 4-3, Thursday at Central Columbia.
Montgomery (15-8) rallied from two one-run deficits and Greenwood another. Ultimately, the most bizarre of plays, though correctly called, decided the game. Greenwood (17-8) reached the state semifinals for the first time and Montgomery saw its memorable season end in heartbreaking fashion after Strouse ended up striking out Taylor three pitches later.
“It’s just one of those weird timing things. It’s a horrible way to give up that last run because he ends up striking out that batter. It’s one of those things where you can focus on that, but we had some mistakes that were very costly,” Montgomery coach Ross Drick said. “It’s just a disappointing way to see it finish, but that’s the way it goes. Sometimes it’s one play away from whether you advance or whether you’re going home.”
“It came down to one crazy play,” Greenwood coach Mark Sherman said. “When you’re on the other end you hate to lose that way. When you’re on the winning end you also hate to win that way. That’s how this game goes some times. It’s a wild game and crazy things happen.”
Greenwood (17-8) had never won a state tournament game before last Monday but now is one victory from reaching the state final and will play District 3 runner-up Halifax in a district final rematch Monday. These teams were mirror images and both took roller coaster journeys en route to the quarterfinals.
And as much as yesterday’s loss hurt, Montgomery knows it put together quite the rewarding season. The Red Raiders shook off a late-season slump, beat District 4’s top two seeds to win their first district championship since 2015 and became just the second team in program history to win a state playoff game.
“We were riding high at the beginning of the season and then we hit some bumps. What I’m so proud of is they easily could have just crept into playoffs and given up the way that regular season ended, but they kept their heads up and that’s what showed this entire time with a district championship and playing in a second state tournament game,” Drick said. “I like it because it sets the bar high for future teams and we have a huge class of underclassmen and now they have a taste for what state tournament baseball is like. We’re excited about where this team is headed in the future and I couldn’t be more proud of the seniors and I thank them for the effort.”
Drick also thanked the army of Montgomery fans who lined up from behind home down the left-field line. Those fans watched Montgomery tie the game 2-2 in the third inning and 3-3 in the fourth. Hayden Ross’s two-out, fourth-inning RBI single made it 3-3. Luke Myers, however, was brilliant from there, retiring the last 10 hitters he faced and improving to 7-0.
Myers was backed by a strong defense that made some outstanding plays over the last three innings. Shortstop Aaron Bollinger took hits away from Hunter Budman and Colby Springman (2 for 3) in the fifth inning and that helped start changing the game’s complexion with Greenwood taking the lead in the bottom half on a walk, consecutive two-out singles from Garrett Howell and Avery Morder and the wild pitch.
“We are peaking at the right time. They’re starting to believe in themselves,” Sherman said. “We’re getting that confidence and when you have that it’s tough to beat them unless they beat themselves. We preach being humble and being appreciative for the opportunity to move on and we’re excited.”
Montgomery generated excitement in the top of the first when Budman walked, Springman hit a single and Trevor Miller a sacrifice fly that put it up, 1-0. Greenwood two advantage of two walks and two errors in the first two innings, taking a 2-1 lead on Ethan Jezewski’s perfectly placed RBI squeeze bunt. Budman hit an RBI single an inning later, bringing in Tyler Shadle, but Greenwood went up, 3-2, in the third when the inning started with an error and Aaron Morder hit an RBI single.
Montgomery was down, but hardly out. Shadle made a fabulous throw from left field, cutting down a runner at the plate that inning. His rocket one-hop throw was so good Vaughan Ault had time to set up before he applied the tag. The importance of that throw was driven home in the fourth inning when Trevor Miller hit a leadoff single and Ross scorched an 0-2 pitch down the left-field line that scored pinch-runner Coltin Hans and tied the game, 3-3.
“I love how they fought all the way until the end. We made some mistakes and they easily could have hung their heads and given up but we battled back and we’re trading run for run there,” Drick said. “I’m proud of every single one of these kids for that. They showed their heart again today.”
Gage Yohn and Strouse combined on a five-hitter and Strouse struck out six in 2 1/3 innings of brilliant relief. The left-hander allowed just one run, three hits and struck out 23 in 12 2/3 innings of postseason baseball. They are two seniors who helped Montgomery make its deepest postseason run since 2012. Springman went 2 for 3, giving him six hits in two state tournament games, and is one of the promising underclassmen back next year as a younger team will try using this memorable run as a springboard.
“These underclassmen are hungry and they want it, too,” Drick said. “These seniors have taught our guys what it feels like to be here. Our message afterward was nobody is going to give you a chance next year, but there’s no reason we can’t be right back in this same spot.”
Montgomery 101 100 03 5 3; Greenwood 111 010 x4 5 2
Gage Yohn, Brayden Strouse (4) and Vaughan Ault. Luke Myers and Bryce Dalpiaz. WMyers, (7-0). LStrouse, (5-4).
Top Montgomery hitters: Colby Springman 2-3; Hayden Ross 1-3, 2B, RBI; Hunter Budman 1-3, run; Trevor Miller 1-2, RBI. Top Greenwood hitters: Aaron Morder 2-3, RBI; Avery Morder 2-3, run, SB.
Records: Greenwood (17-8), Montgomery (15-8).