Connor Maggi was locked in and had allowed just two hits through five frames in Tuesday’s rivalry game. But in the sixth inning, Liberty Christian batters figured out the Jefferson Forest ace.
The Bulldogs mounted a furious comeback, turning a three-run deficit into a one-run lead in the sixth courtesy of three hits, three walks and Dalton Mann’s game-winning sacrifice fly as they exacted revenge on the Cavaliers, 4-3.
“It feels incredible,” LCA closer Sully Holmes said of the victory, which evened the season series and gave each team a win on its home turf.
Holmes, a junior, knows the devastating feeling that can accompany a loss suffered in the late innings of games. Back on May 7, he was on the mound when Evan Mace hit a walk-off double to give Jefferson Forest (7-3) the win in the teams’ first meeting.
This time, Holmes helped the Bulldogs close out a win, wiggling out of a jam in the seventh — one frame after his teammates came alive at the plate to take the lead — and locked down a save.
Holmes and the Bulldogs (7-2) did their jobs when they mattered most. LCA had just six outs to work with when it started manufacturing the offense it had been missing most of the night.
Maggi, who threw a complete game for JF, had allowed four runners to reach against him through five frames on two walks and two hits, with no one advancing past second. But in the sixth, six straight LCA batters, in batting against Maggi for the third time, reached safely.
The Bulldogs, during the stretch, cashed in courtesy of run-scoring singles from Will Thomas and Dillon Stowers, the latter tying the game at 3.
Tanner Thomas, who singled, scored LCA’s first run of the night on Will Thomas’ RBI single through the left side. Then Stowers made up for early struggles on the mound Tuesday by knocking a two-run single to right field.
“The mindset going up there [to the plate] was not to do too much,” Stowers said. “Put runners in play.”
After that, he said, he was confident his teammates would push the Bulldogs ahead.
Mann proved Stowers right when he lifted an 0-2 pitch into left field, giving Will Thomas, from third, enough time to slide in just before the throw reached the plate.
“I knew I needed to put the ball in the outfield, get the runner in,” Mann said, “and that’s what I did.”
Holmes entered for the seventh with the one-run lead. He picked up the first out against the first batter he faced, then ran into trouble, putting the advantage in jeopardy.
The right-hander issued back-to-back walks to put the winning run on first. But he locked in for the ensuing two at-bats, pumping fastballs through the zone and needing just seven pitches to record two strikeouts.
“Coach [Randy] Tomlin came out of the dugout and started talking to me. He told me I’ve got this, and they trust me to close the game,” Holmes said of the mound visit before the two Ks. “That’s why I’m in. That kind of settled me down a little bit.”
JF coach Ryan Gilleland, who called the matchup Tuesday an “overall great high school baseball” contest, saw his team earn the momentum early. But it couldn’t take advantage of the late baserunners. Holmes was responsible for stymying the Cavaliers’ bats, as was Ben Blair.
Blair, who entered in the fourth, didn’t allow a hit or a run, didn’t give up a walk and struck out three batters. The only player to reach against him did so courtesy of a hit by pitch.
“He’s the whole reason we had a chance to [come back],” LCA’s Tomlin said. “He’s got a great arm and is gonna be a great, great, attribute for our program. It was a good opportunity to get out there in that situation against a very good team and hold us there.”
Blair settled LCA after three previous less-than-stellar innings defensively.
Stowers, the starting pitcher who escaped without having a run count against him (with the help of reliever Will Thomas), issued two walks and gave up a hit to Peyton Smith. Mace also reached on an error in the first.
Then Thomas, despite helping LCA escape damage by recording the third out in the first, gave up three runs (two earned) over the next two frames.
Cameron Phillips and Breckin Nace, who both reached on walks with no outs, scored on another LCA error and when Adam Woodall grounded into a double play.
JF stretched its two-run lead to 3-0 in the third on Domenic Rowlands’ RBI single, which scored Mace. Mace and Will Kese hit back-to-back singles off Thomas to start the frame.
Stowers ensured Thomas wouldn’t take the loss with his tying hit in the sixth.
Maggi worked opposite four LCA pitchers before taking the loss. He gave up four runs (all earned) on five hits, walked five and struck out five in six innings.
“He battled the whole game. Pitched well. He lost command a little bit late,” Gilleland said of his ace, “and then give credit to their players. … Connor gave us everything he had, and I thought our effort was tremendous throughout the night. … Our kids, offense, defense, pitching, I couldn’t ask for any more of them.”