Needing a victory to keep their postseason title hopes alive Wednesday, the Tigers opened up a four-run lead against the Phillies and held on for a 5-3 triumph. The Tigers now look toward an even better finish when the two teams link up for a 6 p.m. clash at Rudy York Field.
Tigers coach Alan Harris pointed out his team has been playing do-or-die baseball for the last week following an early defeat in the tournament.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Harris said Wednesday. “We got dropped in the losers’ bracket the first part of the tournament, so our backs [have] been up against the wall. We had a real good regular season, won the regular season championship, and we’ve just battled back. And now we’re even, so we’re looking forward to tomorrow night to win the championship, hopefully. [We] got a real tough opponent.”
The Tigers scored the first run in the bottom of the first inning, with Grant Harris sliding safely into home plate following a wild pitch. Harris led off the inning with a double before coming around the bases to score.
In the bottom of the second, yet another wild pitch from the Phillies gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead as Dominique Williams, who led things off with a walk, crossed home plate standing up. Micah Tart, who hit a one-out single to right-center field to reach base, later scored to make it a three-run game. Tart darted toward home after the Phillies caught Brady Craig attempting to steal second base.
Jordon Wells pulled the Phillies to within two in the top of the fourth after his hit fell under the glove of the Tigers’ diving center fielder, rolling to the wall and allowing Khase Willis to come around the bend to score as Wells made his way to third for a triple.
With one out and a runner on third, Tigers pitcher Gage Morris escaped any further damage by striking out the next Phillies batter in the order before inducing an inning-ending groundout.
Still ahead 3-1 going into the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers pushed two more runs across on Jake Cooper’s sacrifice fly to right and one on Harris’ run-scoring double to left.
The top of the Phillies’ lineup came up to bat in the top of the sixth as Bailey Ward and Blane Belisario drew walks to put runners on first and second. Harris, on in relief of Morris, recorded a strikeout and then a groundout to third, which brought in the Phillies’ second run but drew the Tigers an out closer to ending the ballgame.
Harris surrendered an RBI single to Nick Root as the Phillies trailed 5-3, but the margin would remain that way as the Tiger reliever induced a groundout to second to force a must-win game.
“Our pitching carried us through. Gage Morris pitched almost a complete game and just gave up one run [with] him pitching, I think,” Alan Harris said of his team’s performance. “Our 12-year-old leadership came up and got some key hits to get some runs in.”
Phillies coach Stewart Belisario had hoped for some more passionate play from his team, even knowing the Tigers needed to beat them twice.
“We had every intention of coming out here and jumping on top of ’em tonight and not giving ’em a second chance, not giving ’em any steam, but that didn’t happen and we didn’t seem to have everything we needed to have tonight,” Belisario said. “But, tomorrow I told ’em there’s no hanging their heads. They gotta get fired up. They’ve gotta get determined. They’ve gotta believe that they’re in the game. And, they’ve gotta be aggressive. Tomorrow’s a new day and I believe we can definitely take ’em. After two games in a row, I believe we’ll be able to pull it out.”
The loss, he reasoned, may have been a wake-up call for his team, which had won several games in a row before the two-run defeat.
“From the get-go today there wasn’t a fire under half the boys’ [bellies],” Belisario added. “I think they were used to winning. They needed a little knockdown to make them come back to earth ’cause they’ve won, basically, since the season ended and into this tournament — we [had] won six straight, I believe. So, they just needed a little reality check, really.”
As for the Tigers, Harris thinks his team has positioned itself well heading into the postseason tournament finale.
“Right now, we’re where we’re the most comfortable,” Harris acknowledged. “We’re not used to losing. We’ve done real good all yearlong and our kids have been motivated by winning … so I don’t think we’re gonna have to say a whole to ’em to get ’em geared up and ready for tomorrow. We got some good pitchers left in our stable, so we’ve good pitching left and I think our kids are now confident that we’ve got the team to win it.”
After finishing with the best regular season record in the league at 16-1, the Tigers fell the first time they played the Phillies in the tournament, with the Phillies rallying for five late runs to win 6-4. There was no rally this time around, setting up today’s showdown.