The AU baseball team didn't get stuck in an elevator on Friday (Apr. 18). To be honest, the Eagles were in the wide open spaces of Donges Field and the Sarver Athletic Complex.
Nevertheless, the Eagles spent all day in cramped quarters.
Two close, down-to-the-wire baseball games against Malone at Donges Field left the Eagles feeling as if someone had invaded their personal space all afternoon. The Pioneers took a pair of games from AU, winning, 5-4 and 9-8. The teams will play a nine-inning single game on Saturday (Apr. 19, 1 p.m.).
Ashland is 18-15, 8-10 in the GLIAC. The Pioneers are 17-21 and 12-11 in the league.
Both of these games went down to the game's final out. In both games, the Eagles had the equalizing run on base when the Pioneers recorded the final out.
In the first game, AU trailed from the outset. Malone had a 5-0 lead entering the bottom of the fifth inning. The Pioneers had at least two hits in each of the first five innings. They left six runners on base during that time. AU starter Vince Frate (7-3) was pitching in traffic all afternoon, but he never lost his nerve and his defense came up with a couple of outstanding plays.
Center fielder Nick Edwards threw out Kyler King, who tagged up and tried to score on a fly ball to center field in the second inning. In the fourth inning, AU gunned down Keanan Locke at third base. Locke was trying to turn a double into a triple when Edwards retrieved the ball in center, threw to shortstop Austin Walts, who turned and fired a strike to Mike Lewandowski at third.
The Eagles got themselves back in the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring four runs - all with two outs. The first run scored on left fielder Wade Kaido's single down the left field line. Right fielder Mackenzie Hampshire followed that by depositing a ball over the left field wall. That three-run homer brought the Eagles to within 5-4.
The homer was Hampshire's team-high fourth of the year. He drove in five runs on the afternoon.
After Hampshire's blast, designated hitter Kyle Brooks singled and second baseman Stephen James walked. But the Eagles couldn't get either of those two home. From the fourth through the sixth inings, the Eagles stranded seven runners. For the game, AU left nine on base.
The Eagles left the bases loaded in the sixth inning. In the seventh inning, Brooks led off and was hit by a pitch. After James reached on a fielder's choice, Lewandowski bounced into a 6-4-3 double play.
Malone's Taylore Baker (6-3) pitched a complete game. AU got to him for eight hits and Baker walked three without a strikeout.
Frate lasted five innings and allowed five runs (four earned) on 13 hits. David Devine pitched two scoreless innings in relief.
Brooks and Edwards had two hits each and Hampshire drove in four runs. MU first baseman Logan Gray and left fielder Hayden Mobley both went 3-for-3. Gray had two doubles. The Pioneers had seven extra base hits.
AU took the early lead in the second game, scoring three times in the third inning off of Matt Litty. Unfortunately, the Eagles couldn't hold that lead. Malone answered with six runs in the fourth inning. That frame included five hits. Gray had a two-run double and right fielder Matt Wheeler ripped a three-run homer.
The Pioneers scored two more runs in the sixth to build their lead to 8-4. AU scored three times in the sixth and trailed, 8-7, with one more at bat left. Malone catcher Matt Davis, who went 3-for-4 with two RBI, singled in a run in the seventh. That insurance run proved to be big because AU got one run back in the bottom of the seventh.
That came on a sacrifice fly to center by first baseman Adam Murphy. After James coaxed a walk from Brad Beachy, the Eagles had two on with two outs. Beachy escaped the jam when he threw a called third strike past Lewandowski.
James had a homer and a double in the nightcap. Catcher Adam Vasil and Walts also had two hits apiece.
Litty (2-1) went 5.2 innings to receive credit for the win. He allowed seven runs on eight hits. Litty walked two and whiffed five. Beachy earned his third save of the season.