by Rob Grubbs
As the Region 3-AAAAA baseball standings begin to crystalize, the three-game series between the McIntosh Chiefs and Fayette County Tigers holds huge implications for both teams. The Chiefs are trying to keep pace with the Griffin Bears for the coveted second spot in the region which comes with a first-round home playoff series, while the Tigers were trying to stay ahead of the Whitewater Wildcats for the four and final spot.
The two longtime county rivals would open the series at Fayette County field on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon tailor made for baseball. McIntosh prevailed in game one with a come-from-behind 9-4 victory powered by the Sanders brothers. Zach was the starting pitcher and went five innings, giving up no earned runs and constantly pitching ahead in the count. His brother, Ryan, played flawless defense at third base and drove in two runs with two hits, including the first run of the game, a single which would plate Andrew Pinckney.
After falling behind 2-0, Fayette County struck back quickly, scoring four runs in the bottom of the second on some shaky McIntosh defense and a two-run double by Jeremai Joseph. The Tigers lineup was opportunistic, putting the ball in play and forcing the Chiefs into uncharacteristic mistakes. With two outs and two runners on, Sanders was able to get the third out with his team only behind 4-2. A good starting pitcher overcomes defensive miscues and minimizes the damage, which is exactly what Sanders did.
Tiger starting pitcher Drew Hodges kept the Chief lineup off balance with his sweeping curve ball he was throwing for strikes, but after walking two of the first three batters in the third, Mitch Maxwell hit a two-run single and would later score for the lead the Chiefs would never relinquish.
The Tigers mounted a serious challenge in the bottom of the fourth after back-to-back singles by Paul Jenkins and Joseph, but on a double steal attempt the runner at third was called out on a questionable catchers’ interference call by the home plate umpire to end the scoring threat.
The Chiefs stretched the lead late, getting a home run off the bat of Kyle Riesselmann, his second in two days, and a RBI single from Ryan Sanders. Hudson Macnellis closed out the game with two scoreless innings for the 9-4 final.
“This series is big for us as we fight for that second spot. We really don’t want to travel four hours to play that first round playoff series,” said McIntosh Coach David Munoz. “Our bats started the season a bit slow, but we see improvement each game, and we like the direction we are headed.”
On the shaky inning, he said, “We had one rough defensive stretch there in the second inning, but our guys refocused and finished strong.”
Game two of the series on Thursday, which was moved to Fayette County because of the big soccer match at McIntosh, saw a dominant pitching performance from the Chiefs, with Christopher Senghor and Conner Koscevic combining to one-hit the Tigers in a 10-0 win. Sophomores Pinckney and Riesselmann stayed hot at the dish, both getting two hits and scoring twice while Ethan Ange drove in two.
The Chiefs went for the series sweep at home on Friday night and have circled their calendars for the big series against Griffin that starts April 11, while the Tigers will face off against region leader Starr’s Mill after spring break.