It was a wild and crazy night of Bartow County baseball Monday as Cass and Woodland tangled for the second time in four days, with the Colonels prevailing in eight innings, 6-4.
Aside from the free baseball, there were multiple comebacks, baserunning blunders and controversial calls as the two rivals fought it out.
Cass scored two runs off five walks in the top of the eighth and retired Woodland 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning, an anticlimactic end to a game that was a roller coaster for both teams.
“I have complete faith in my guys,” Cass coach Adam Williams said. “We found a way to win. ... So I’m proud of our kids. We’ve got the fight in us.”
The Colonels had taken an 8-5 win at home on Friday in the first game of the two between the teams, and looked poised to finish off the sweep early at the home of the Wildcats.
With one out in the top of the first, Bailey Campbell was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a ball in the dirt, and scored when Jake Collum sliced a single down the right-field line.
Steven Spell followed Collum with a line-drive base hit into left.
Cody Johnson hit another ball solidly but into the glove of Toby Queen in left field, before Tyler Hendon rocketed a single back up the middle.
Collum was held at third to load the bases with two outs, but Harrison escaped when Zach Yancey hit another ball solidly but flew out to Queen.
The Colonels extended their lead in the third, but again could have had more.
Campbell walked to lead off, Collum reached on an error and Spell also walked to load the bases with no outs.
Johnson followed with another flyout to left, this one scoring a run on the sac fly.
But Harrison struck out Hendon, hit Yancey to load the bases again and then struck out Evan Hinton to end the inning.
Collum, meanwhile, had been efficient on the mound for Cass, facing just 10 batters through three innings, but couldn’t keep the lead in the fourth.
Jacob Frye singled with one out for Woodland and Cauy Williams followed by taking a ball, then blasting a home run deep into the trees behind the left-center field wall, tying the game at two apiece.
The Colonels responded to the challenge immediately.
Spell singled to lead off the top of the fifth, moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a ground ball.
Tommy Peed for Harrison on the mound with Spell on third and two outs, and got Yancey to hit a ground ball right at Harrison, who had moved to third base.
But the Woodland starter couldn’t make the throw over to first, scoring Spell with a gift go-ahead run for Cass.
“It was the small things we’re not getting done,” Woodland coach Colby Coursey said. “Making errors in crucial spots has kind of been our downfall the last couple games.”
Yancey would move to third with two outs, but Woodland shortstop Jordan Lee made a brilliant sliding stop on a grounder by Hinton and threw to first to end the inning and keep the score at 3-2.
The Wildcats again struck right back. Noah Ludy singled to lead off, was sacrificed to second, and scored on Lee’s single through the right side.
Three pitches later, though, Collum was out of the inning after Johnson snagged Garrett Cornett’s one-hop rocket at second base and started a 4-6-3 double play.
The game was already starting to resemble a heavyweight fight, and the proceedings would get even crazier from there; in the sixth and seventh, every set of three outs filled with its own self-contained highs and lows, controversies and surprises.
It started in the top of the sixth. Nathan Smith singled to lead off for Cass.
His courtesy runner then stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch as Clay Means flew out to center.
With one out and a runner on third, Peed pitched very carefully to Campbell, eventually losing him on a five-pitch walk.
Campbell actually moved up to second on defensive indifference, but Collum popped up to third base to give Woodland two outs before Spell was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Peed then went mano a mano with Johnson, getting the Cass second baseman to pop up to his first baseman Williams.
That inning—bases loaded, intentional walks, a big missed opportunity—was only a preview of things to come.
In the bottom of the inning, Hunter Reaid singled off Collum to lead off before Frye smoked a 1-1 pitch back up the middle.
Collum somehow gloved the hard liner, holding on to the ball before easily doubling Reaid’s courtesy runner Emmanuel Jones off first.
The split-second double play seemed to end Woodland’s scoring chance, but Williams singled with two outs and his pinch runner Titus Jones stole second.
With the runner in scoring postion, all it took was a single, and that’s what Koby Stansel provided, driving in Jones and taking second on the throw to put Woodland up 4-3.
Harrison was intentionally walked before Ludy singled to load the bases, but Collum, laboring and a long way from his earlier efficiency, got Queen to ground out hard to shortstop to end the inning.
That left the Colonels still down to their last three outs with fresh Woodland pitcher Grayson Bagwell taking the mound for the last inning.
Hendon scorched a ball to left-center that looked like it might go out, but eventually settled at the foot of the wall for two bases.
Yancey, up next, laid down a perfect bunt to third. With Harrison staying at home to cover the bag, Bagwell had to retrieve the ball and had no chance of a play at first, merely flipping it to Harrison to try and catch pinch runner Bryson Markley straying too far past the bag.
Yancey, though, had not stopped running when he got to first base. With attention centered at third, it took Woodland too long to pick up on the play, and Harrison’s hurried throw deflected off the second baseman’s glove and into center field.
Markley easily trotted home to square things up again at 4-4.
“He goes, they make a bad throw, and we end up scoring that run. It worked out for us,” Williams said. “We’re just playing hard. Zach Yancey, he’s a heady senior ballplayer that knows how to play the game, so we trust him and we let our seniors go make plays.”
Yancey would steal third base as it looked like Cass might come all the way back and take the lead in the inning, but once again the cruel pendulum swung the other way, as Bagwell got Hinton to pop up, Smith to ground out to third and Means to strike out to end the inning.
That gave Woodland one last chance to win it before extras.
No. 9 hitter Lee walked on four pitches against new Colonels hurler Cody Johnson.
Johnson also started off Cornett with two straight balls as the Woodland cheering section exulted.
On a 2-0 count, Johnson got a called strike, before throwing ball three on the next pitch.
But on that pitch, Lee, who hadn’t seen the umpire signal a strike the pitch before, started trotting down to second as though Cornett had walked.
Cass catcher Smith, realizing the error, sprinted at Lee and threw back to Campbell at first base to apply the tag for the out as the unlucky Lee tried to scramble back.
To make matters worse, Cornett struck out two pitches later—but the Wildcats, as in the previous inning, very nearly came back from what looked like a rally-killing turn of events.
Reaid singled and Frye was hit by a pitch. With one ball on Williams, the Woodland cleanup hitter held up his hand for timeout, and Johnson pirouetted on the mound, stopping his pitching motion halfway through.
The home plate umpire, who hadn’t granted Williams time, called this as a balk, given that the ball was still in play.
This would have moved the runners up to second and third, as Adam Williams came quickly out of the Cass dugout to argue.
With the spectators yelling one thing and Williams in his ear arguing another, the home plate umpire conferred with his compatriot behind the mound, and the two decided to return the runners to their previous bases.
This time, a livid Coursey popped out of the Wildcats dugout. When the smoke settled, the revised decision stood, with the runners being returned to first and second and both umpires absorbing vitriol from the Woodland fans.
It wouldn’t have mattered, as Williams smoked the next pitch right at Cass third baseman Spell, who held on to the line drive to end the inning and send it to extras.
After all that excitement, the free baseball couldn’t live up to what had come before.
Campbell walked to lead off, his fourth free pass of the game.
Collum grounded back to the pitcher for one out, but Bagwell walked Spell, Johnson and Hendon in quick succession to force in the eventual winning run.
“The strike zone definitely shrunk tremendously there in the last couple of innings,” Coursey said. “It was definitely not the same zone we had at the beginning of the game. I thought we pitched really well and I thought we pitched well in tight situations.”
Garrett Pope relieved Bagwell at that point, but he also had trouble finding the zone, walking Hinton to force in another run in between getting Yancey to fly out and Smith to strike out to end the inning.
The bottom of the eighth didn’t match the craziness that had preceded it, as Johnson worked a clean inning that must have seemed foreign to both fans and players by that point.
Stansel flew out, Harrison struck out and Ludy popped up to first to end it.
“Bartow County rivalry, you expect to fight for everything you get,” Adam Williams said. “And [Woodland’s] kids played hard ... I tip my hat to those guys.”
Campbell and Spell each reached base in all five of their plate appearances for Cass, with Campbell scoring three runs and Spell two.
For Woodland, Cauy Williams had two hits, drove in two and scored twice. Ludy and Reaid each added two hits.