Years from now, when South County baseball coach Mark Luther looks back on his coaching career, he’s going to remember the wins, the losses, and also, Page 25 of the rule book.
That’s where it says a player is not allowed to come off the bench to run twice in the same inning.
A 10-minute delay for umpires to check the rule book was precipitated by junior Blake Thompson’s two-run double in the bottom of the sixth that gave South County a 4-3 lead over Lake Braddock in the finals of the Patriot District tournament Monday night at West Springfield. The Stallions added another run in the key inning and Evan Beal worked out of a seventh-inning jam to secure the district title with a 5-3 win.
South County moved to 22-0 on the season while Lake Braddock dropped to 18-4. The Stallions will host McLean Friday night in the Class AAA Northern Region tournament opener, while Langley will travel to Lake Braddock. South County is the only public school to have beaten Lake Braddock this year.
The tense moments in the bottom of the sixth occurred because Matt Devore had already entered the game as a courtesy runner after catcher Mike Perez singled to open the frame with the Stallions trailing 3-1. After two strikeouts and a wild pitch, Devore was on second for Cameron Thompson, who made it 3-2 with an RBI single.
Designated hitter Mike Egbert worked a walk from standout Bruins pitcher Kenny Towns, and Devore came back into the game as a pinch runner this time. But that’s where Page 25 comes in. It says the same player can’t come off the bench as a runner twice in the same inning.
But Lake Braddock didn’t challenge the substitution when it happened, and Blake Thompson came up with two runners on. The junior left fielder, a left-handed batter, sliced a line-drive into left-center. Lake Braddock outfielder Thomas Rogers chased hard, looking to catch the ball and end the inning.
But as he committed to the ball in left-center, it began to spin towards the left-field line. As Rogers tried to stop, his feet went out from under him and the ball rolled to the fence. Cameron Thompson and Devore scored on the play. Moments later, Stallions leadoff man Andrew Rector laced a ball that landed at the base of the center-field fence, scoring Blake Thompson from second to make it 5-3.
That’s when Lake Braddock coach Jody Rutherford came out to ask the umpires to check the rule, but even though it was a violation, it was too late.
“It had no bearing on the game,” Rutherford said. “They made a mistake but I’ve made mistakes too. We had two high school teams that played a really good game today.”
Thompson said he was nervous coming up in an important situation against the district’s co-player of the year.
“I’m trying to get the foot down early and make sure I make contact with the ball,” Thompson said about his approach to hitting against Towns. “With his velocity, if you get it on the fat part of the bat, it’s going to go hard. You’re just trying to square it up.”
Thompson was late on a fastball, but he got enough of it to challenge Lake Braddock’s outfield.
“I thought he was going to catch it, but I had some luck with me,” Thompson said. “I guess you’ve got to have some luck when you win 22-in-a-row. … I was watching it. I’m not supposed to, but I was.”
Beal, the heavily scouted righty, struck out four and walked three in a complete-game six-hitter. He allowed a first-inning double, but worked out of the jam and proceeded to get eight batters in a row before a two-out walk led to Lake Braddock’s first run in the fourth. He regrouped in the fifth before the Bruins’ first two batters reached in the sixth.
After Michael Quinteros bunted the runners to second and third, Garrett Driscoll grounded to shortstop Tyler Frazier, who froze Andrew Weidinger at third, and threw to first for the out. Weidinger managed to score on a close play, and Ryan Owens moved up a base on the play at the plate. Two pitches later, Perez couldn’t locate a pitch that got past him, and Owens scored to give Lake Braddock a 3-1 lead.
The Stallions came up in the sixth trailing by two with Towns, who had given up just two hits through five, looking strong. But Luther said his team wasn’t nervous.
“We’ve just owned the sixth inning all year long,” he said. “If we get to that spot and we’re close, we’ve got a great shot.”
After the runs came in, Beal made sure to end the game, but he labored.
After recording the first two outs on just four pitches, Beal gave up a walk, double and another walk to load the bases before getting Owens to ground out to second to end the game.
“I was so hot temperature-wise. I was sweating hard. They were making me work,” Beal said of the final frame. “That’s in their gameplan, but we just executed a little better than they did tonight.”
While Beal, in true American League-style, doesn’t bat, he may have gotten the biggest hit of the night.
That’s when he received a pie-in-the-face while talking to reporters.
He took it in stride. Just as the Stallions calmly accepted the district championship.
“It’s a milestone. It’s another notch on our belt, but we’re far from done,” he said with whipped cream still dripping off his chin.