By Brian Paglia
With almost a month of baseball completed, Luella didn't think it would struggle to contain a sense of panic in dire circumstances. Losing four straight had taught the Lions that about themselves, and a program accustommed to performing at a playoff-caliber level was shaken a bit by its own reflection.
But in a 13-4 win over Union Grove in a Region 2-AAAAA game Friday, the Lions returned to their customary form. They were resolute despite falling behind 3-1 by the third inning, and that resolve manifested in an eight-run fourth inning, the critical blow in a crucial game.
"That's probably the first bonafide rally we've had all year," Luella coach Andy cooper said. "We had a big inning. When you score eight runs in an inning that's going to help."
Luella (8-5, 3-2) sent 12 batters to the plate in the bottom of the fourth, collected four hits and benefitted from three Union Grove errors and a hit batsman. Four of the Lions runs came with two outs in the inning.
By the end of it, the Wolverines (8-6, 4-2) were using their fourth different pitcher of the game.
Luella looked, and felt, like a different team.
"That was a pretty big situation there, especially with the county rivalry," said Luella first baseman Ryan Marsh, who had three hits and drove in three runs. "We've been kind of struggling a bit lately. Especially with a team that's a big rival like that, it felt good. Everybody kind of bonded together. Dugout kind of got pumped up."
Luella's luck clearly turned at that point, for as the Lions tacked on runs in the sixth and seventh innings, an array of fortune came their way. Bloop singles. Wild pitches. Union Grove went through two more pitchers, pushing the total of pitchers used for the game to six.
Just three innings before, luck wasn't kind to the Lions. They had stranded the bases loaded in the first, a sharp line drive by Vincent Jackson resulting in a double play instead of a bases-clearing, game-changing moment. Tyler Padgett drove in two runs for the Wolverines. Another scored on a wild pitch.
Enter the panic for Luella.
"We've been playing behind a lot this year," Cooper said.
Instead, the Lions simply swung the bats. They pounded out 17 hits. Every player in the lineup reached base.
Instead, Luella sophomore starting pitcher Kendal Hill toughened. He allowed three earned runs on five hits in five innings of work and picked off two base runners.
"He's done a real good job for us," Cooper said. "He's stepping up. We've used him in some big games so far, but he's been effective."
Instead, the Lions took uncertain circumstances and turned it into their third consecutive win.
"We're finally starting to come together a little bit," Cooper said. "We struggled early. But the bottom part of our lineup's been getting on. We cut down on our strikeouts a little bit. Hopefully this is a good sign that we're starting to turn around and maybe starting to get better at the right time."