Special to LTN
DENVER — The East Lincoln Mustangs avoided an early-round upset in the state playoffs at the hands of South Iredell with a dramatic, extra-inning 3-2 victory Friday night at The Corral.
East Lincoln had their hands full with South Iredell’s ace Colby Dishmond on the mound for the Vikings. The high-powered Mustangs offense only managed five hits in the contest, only two of which left the infield.
The lefty David Keener started on the mound for the Mustangs but struggled with early control issues. After walking consecutive batters in the first, Keener was bailed out by third baseman Danny Sullivan, who turned a sharp grounder into an inning-ending double play.
The Mustangs drew first-blood in the bottom of the second when back-to-back errors allowed Cam Carter to give his team a 1-0 lead. Carter, who led off the inning with a grounder that was thrown away by the Vikings shortstop, scored when Vikings catcher Eythan Kramm tried to catch Carter stealing third but his throw sailed into left field.
Keener and Dishmond dominated the game in a classic pitcher’s duel until the sixth inning.
Kramm scored the equalizer from third as Mustangs catcher Charlie Goss threw out Dishmond who was attempting to steal second. Kramm broke for home on the throw and scored uncontested to make the score 1-1.
Dishmond struck out the first two East Lincoln batters in the sixth, but Sullivan broke up the no-hitter with a single that found its way into left field. Sullivan made his way to second as the left fielder mishandled the ball. Carter followed Sullivan with a walk to put two runners on, but Dishmond struck out Zach Rust to escape the jam.
Addison Parrish, who took over on the mound in relief of Keener in the fifth, took care of the Vikings in the seventh to preserve the tie and give his Mustangs a chance for a late victory.
Dishmond however, returned to the mound in the seventh and quickly continued his streak of strike outs by retiring Ethan Jones and Cory Peterson on strikes. Clay Hodges injected life back into his Mustangs by beating the throw on a slow grounder to second to avoid ending the inning. Two pitches later, Hodges was standing on third after swiping second and third. Jake Helms had a chance to be the hero, but, like ten batters before him, he fell victim to Dishmond’s 90-mph fastball and went down on strikes.
Then things really got interesting in the eighth. South Iredell got a lead-off single from Cory Cervin who stole second and moved to third on a fielder’s choice. East Lincoln head coach Chris Matile then made the decision to replace Parrish with Darin Salter, who was still wearing a cast after breaking his left arm in the Shelby Baseball Easter Tournament in April.
“This was the first day that he had been cleared to play so we decided to go with him,” Matile said about his decision to pitch Salter.
Matile decided to intentionally walk Dishmond and have Salter pitch to Kane Sutten. Sutten knocked a grounder that the shortsop Helms couldn’t handle. Cerven scored on the error to give the Vikinngs a 2-1 lead. Salter then settled into the inning and eventually struck out Ryan Mathis to end the inning.
Goss led-off the Mustangs half of the eighth with a double down the left field line to put the tying run in scoring position. Dishmond hit Parrish to put runners on first and second. Dishmond was then replaced on the mound with Cerven. Sullivan followed Parrish with a soft dribbler down the first base line and appeared to be thrown-out, but was rewarded the base when the umpire called South Iredell for catcher’s interference. With the bases loaded, Carter hit a sharp grounder to Dishmond at shortstop. Dishmond came up with a strong throw to get the force out at home as Goss slid into the plate too late.
So with one out and the bases still loaded, Matile inserted Chris Collichio into the game to pinch-hit for Zach Rust. The upcoming at-bat was only Collichio’s second of the season. Tyler Rhodes was also inserted to pinch-run for Parrish, adding speed to the base-paths.
Collichio, in an obvious bunting situation, dropped a beauty down the third base line as Rhodes broke for home on the squeeze play. Rhodes scored easily and as Kramm picked up the bunt and threw it over the first baseman’s head allowing Sullivan to head home and score the game-winning run for the Mustangs.
The Mustangs dugout erupted as players and coaches stormed the field and the unlikely hero, Collichio.
“Are you kidding me,” Matile said after the win. “That’s playoff baseball right there.”
“Chris, unfortunately, suffered a broken ankle in our second scrimmage of the season and still isn’t full speed. But I’ll tell you what, he’s our best bunter,” Matile said. “What a bunt. Phenomenal.”
“I pretty much knew I was going to be bunting and that the first pitch was going to be a take. But that second pitch when coach gave the squeeze I knew I was going to be able to get it down. I was confident,” Collichio said following the celebration. “I was just digging it out and then I heard everyone go crazy. I actually fell coming around second I was so excited.”