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By David Sharp
Knox County looked to have an April 16, Tri-Rivers Conference baseball game at Schuyler County well under control in the late innings. The Eagles (4-6, 1-2) countered Jesse Wheeler’s third inning home run and a successful Taylor Mullenix squeeze bunt in the fourth.
Knox County scored twice in the fourth and three more times in the fifth inning for a 5-2 lead. The back and forth contest turned toward the home team when two routine defensive plays were not made in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Either two out play would have ended the game with Knox County on the winning side.
Tad Anderson tied the game with a two out RBI hit. Schuyler County took advantage of a leadoff walk and a critical eighth inning two base throwing error to hand Knox County a heartbreaking 6-5 defeat.
One of the more intensely played contests of the season started off tilting heavily to the Schuyler County side. Jesse Wheeler had a perfect game going through three innings. Wheeler wound up with 16 strikeouts in eight innings.
Jesse Wheeler struck out the final five batters he faced in the three inning stretch and six of the last seven. Wheeler followed his dominating pitching performance with a one out home run over the left center field fence.
Lance McMahon matched Wheeler pitch for pitch. Jordan Wheeler followed Jesse Wheelers blast with a base hit. Daniel Howe had a two out hit.
The runners moved up on a passed ball. Lance McMahon wound up fanning the side in the third inning.
Knox County responded by taking the lead in the fourth inning. Lance McMahon lit the fuse with a one out hit. Dylan Morgret was struck by a pitch. Cameron Morford drilled an RBI hit. Tristan Lonberger put Knox County in the lead with another run producing hit.
Keanan Kite followed with a base hit. The bases were loaded with one out. Jesse Wheeler stepped up and struck out the next two batters, keeping the score at 2-1 in the middle of the fourth inning.
Alex Bruner answered for Schuyler County with a leadoff double. Jaron Shively forced an error. Taylor Mullenix laid down a bunt, scoring Bruner with the tying run.
Lance McMahon faced down Jesse Wheeler with runners on first and third base and one out. McMahon fanned the Ram batter in a match of probable all conference performers. Jordan Wheeler grounded out to Tristan Lonberger, ending the inning with the score tied at two.
Brock Couch got to Jesse Wheeler with a one out single in the KCHS fifth inning. Lance McMahon walked. Couch stole second base. Lance McMahon moved up and eventually scored on an error.
Dylan Morgret tapped a short fly ball about midway down the first base line. The ball was mishandled for an error. Cameron Morford and Tristan Lonberger plated runners, putting Knox County ahead by a 5-2 margin.
Schuyler County mounted a responding challenge in their fifth inning. Eric Lutz drew a leadoff walk. An error and a fielder’s choice loaded the bases with one out. Lance McMahon was a warrior on the hill striking out the next two batters.
The bases were left full of Rams. Schuyler County stranded 11 runners to Knox County’s nine. Knox County had all the momentum.
Colton Danger and Christian Deem took advantage of a seemingly rattled Jesse Wheeler for consecutive leadoff hits in the top half of inning six. Whatever Wheeler had lost, he found it during a tough Jared Barnard at bat.
Jesse Wheeler fanned Barnard and Brock Couch. An apparently low strike call went the home team’s way. Lance McMahon grounded back to the hill for the final out. Knox County left men on first and second base.
Tristan Lonberger made three sure handed plays in succession, retiring the side in the Ram sixth inning. Cameron Morford and Tristan Lonberger stroked back to back one out singles in the top of the seventh inning.
Knox County could not move the runners and left two more on. The Eagle’s inability to get one or two more key hits and possibly put the game on ice came back to bite the visitors.
Eric Lutz grounded back to the mound for the first out of the bottom half of inning seven. Daniel Howe stroked a clutch Schuyler County single. Lance McMahon fanned the next batter for the second out.
Knox County got the ground ball they wanted. The play was not made for an error, putting Rams on first and second base. A borderline pitch that could have ended the game went Schuyler County’s way. Jaron Shively lofted a high fly ball to right field.
The high sky, wind and sun were too much to handle. The ball was dropped for an error. Schuyler County was within two runs with two out. Tad Anderson made contact, put the ball in play through the right side of the infield. Both runners scored on the play, tying the score at five all.
Knox County had a runner on second base fail to score with two out on a base hit. A host of Knox County mistakes added up to the final result. Schuyler County made plenty of miscues, but took better advantage of their opportunities.
Lance McMahon struck out his 11th batter of the contest with Tad Anderson in scoring position after stealing second base. An emboldened Jesse Wheeler fanned the first two men he faced in the eighth inning.
Brock Couch drew a two out walk. Lance McMahon flew out to left field, setting the stage for the bottom of the eighth inning.
Knox County walked the leadoff man. A pickoff try resulted in the ball being thrown around for an error. Jesse Wheeler was on third base with no outs. Knox County’s coaching staff made the percentage move of intentionally walking Jordan Wheeler and Eric Lutz loading the bases.
The coaching moves set up a force at any base. The infield and the outfield were drawn in with all conference catcher Daniel Howe at the dish. Howe lofted a fly ball to left field.
The ball was caught for an out. Jesse Wheeler beat the throw home for the come from behind 6-5 Schuyler County victory. Jesse Wheeler struck out 16 batters, hit a home run and scored two. Alex Bruner had two doubles and scored twice.
Schuyler County (3-2, 1-0) scored six runs on nine hits and one unofficial error. Jesse Wheeler was the winning pitcher, walking two of the 38 batters faced. “We jumped out early. I was disappointed in that we had a chance to get them down six or seven runs,” Schuyler County coach Steve Stock said.
“Credit to Knox (County). They got out of some tough situations. Lance McMahon threw a tremendous game. He deserved to win. Knox got some confidence in the middle innings. They put the bat on the ball.”
“We stood and watched strike three go by several times. We showed some grit and some guts in the last inning,” said Stock. “We got a base runner on, used some good fortune and was able to tie it up.”
“This was one of those games that I thought we were in good shape early. I thought we were beat and then we stole it back away from them,” commented Coach Stock. “I have known Lance (McMahon) since he was seven years old. My kids played baseball with him. He deserved to win tonight. Its just baseball.”
Knox County scored five runs on ten hits and five errors. Cameron Morford went 2-4 with two RBI’s. Tristan Lonberger went 3-4 for the Eagles with a pair of runs batted in. Lance McMahon and Dylan Morgret scored two runs each.
Lance McMahon fanned 11 of his 39 batters faced in seven and a third innings. One of the six Schuyler County runs was earned unofficially. Two of McMahon’s four walks were intentional. The brilliant complete game effort ended in a pitching defeat.
“You have got to make the routine play. You can’t tighten up. You can’t lock up in the seventh inning and expect the best,” said Knox County coach Jesse Crawford. “They made the routine plays. It was a battle of who was going to last the longest.”
“Jesse Wheeler pitched a great game. Lance McMahon and Wheeler are two of the premier players in the conference going head to head. It was a fine high school baseball game,” Jesse Crawford said.
“The bottom line is they were just a little bit better when it counted.”