By Cassandra Swartz:
Fort White traveled to Union County Tuesday night intent on spoiling its district foe’s perfect season.
While the Indians came close to doing just that, the Tigers came through when it mattered to win the game 4-2.
“We got timely hits,” said Union County head coach Travis Rimes. “They kept chipping away, chipping away.”
Facing senior lefty Braxton Dukes on the mound, Fort White jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Wyatt McLaughlin and Tucker Hardee hit back-to-back singles to begin the game strong for the visitors.
McLaughlin scored on a wild pitch to put the first run on the board, and Johnathan Fischer delivered a sacrifice fly to bring Hardee home. Hayden Gustavson got the nod on the bump for the Indians and started the game with a strikeout, the first of many on the night.
A hit batter put a man on base for the Tigers, but he was caught stealing to bring the inning to a quick end. In the second, the leadoff Fort White batter got hit by a pitch but was later picked off of first. A groundout and line-out ended that half inning without any scoring. Union County threatened in the second by loading the bases with only one out.
Whip Davis and Paden Clyatt drew consecutive walks, and Eli Rimes hit a single to put runners on every base. Gustavson handled the danger himself by striking out the next two Tigers and preserving the Indians’ two-run lead.
The Indians knocked on the door in the third. Hardee drove a double into left-center field, and then a dropped third strike put men on the corners. From first, Gustavson initiated an attempted double steal. The throw to second was too late, but a dagger from shortstop Quinten Rawls allowed catcher Clyattto tag Hardee out at the plate.
Jake O’Steen singled for the Tigers in the third and stole second to put himself in scoring position, but they weren’t able to bring him home and cut into the deficit. Dukes tossed two strikeouts in the top of the fourth, which helped neutralize a one-out single from Jeffery Hardin.
Despite three strikeouts from Gustavson in the inning, Union County was finally able to break through for a run in the fourth. Whip Davis hit a leadoff double that was just inches short of going over the fence and advanced to third on a dropped third strike.He crossed the plate on a passed ball to cut the lead in half.
The fifth inning was a 1-2-3 inning for both teams. Fort White got a runner on base in the sixth via a walk but couldn’t make anything of it. With time running out and still down a score, the Tigers came to the plate in the sixth, hungry.
Jay Cohen was the leadoff man, and he made it all the way to third on what should have been a routine groundout if not for three errors by the Indians. The throw to first sailed overhead and let Cohen tag and keep going for second.
Rushing to make the out there, the throw to second went over everyone’s heads into the outfield. Cohen rounded second but initially decided against going for third, until the throw from the outfield to third base went way off target and he was able to slide in easily. Up to bat with the tying run 90 feet away was Tripp Davis who had been 0-2 up until this point.
He rose to the occasion by driving a deep double that scored Cohen and tied the game at two apiece. With the go-ahead run in scoring position and no outs, Fort White took out Gustavson and sent in Fischer in relief, who had been playing first base. Whip Davis drew a walk, and then a balk advanced both runners to put men on second and third.
To complete the rally, Clyatt and Rimes hit back-to-back sacrifice grounders that scored Tripp Davis and Whip Davis, respectively. A strikeout finally got the Indians out of the inning, but their lead had been erased and taken over by the Tigers.
After leading for most of the game, Fort White now had three outs left to close the gap. Two groundouts followed by a sliding catch in right field ended their hopes for an upset. Gustavson took the loss but threw seven strikeouts and allowed only four hits while on the mound. Dukes tossed a complete game for Union County.
He gave up four hits and two runs but struck out six.
“Defense helped me out a lot makingsome big outs in some big situations,” said Dukes. “Offense came along and really pulled through.”
Tripp Davis had a clutch performance, driving in the tying run and scoring the go-ahead run. After seeing how the team responded after falling behind early, he has even more faith in their abilities.
“If the dugout stays up and keeps us pumped up, nobody can stop us,” he said. Fort White dropped to 4-3 on the season, while Union County extended its undefeated streak to ten games.
“Everybody’s looking to knock [us] off...so we have to keep working hard,” said Coach Rimes. “This is a hardworking bunch.”