9th inning drama: Pios rally to beat B-W 3-2 in OAC tourney opener

It sure appeared that eight strong innings by pitcher Cory Waite and a two-run homer by Kyle Chontos were going to be the story of Thursday’s OAC Tournament opener between Baldwin Wallace and Marietta College.

Then, the bottom of the ninth inning happened.

Trailing 2-1, the Pioneers rallied for a pair of runs to win it, capped by Tim McCoy’s game-ending, two-out single to right field to plate Josh Ungerbuehler from second base. Pioneers rushed from the third base dugout to mob McCoy between first base and home plate. They enter the tournament’s winner’s bracket and will play John Carroll today at 11 a.m.

“A great win,” said MC head coach Brian Brewer. “A really, really well-played game I thought.

“That’s what the postseason is supposed to be all about right there. I think it’s an indication of the strength of our conference that a fourth-place team can come in here and battle tooth and nail.”

Marietta couldn’t get much going against Waite for the first eight innings of the game, other than a Christian Demko sacrifice fly in the fifth inning that drove in Kevin Johnston. That cut Marietta’s deficit to 2-1, as two innings earlier Chontos yanked a Christian Herstine change-up over the right field foul pole for a two-run homer.

To avoid having their backs against the wall the remainder of the tournament, the Pioneers needed some magic in the ninth. They got it.

A lengthy at-bat by Ryan Hanahan resulted in a walk to lead off the inning. Ungerbuehler followed with a sacrifice bunt attempt. The bunt went back to Waite on the mound, whose throw to second sailed into the outfield to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Waite was then lifted for Yellow Jackets closer Brandon Cichocki.

Cichocki walked his first batter, Chris Winpigler, to load the bases but rebounded by striking out Tyler Packanik.

The next batter, pinch-hitter Ryan Annett, worked a full count before punching a fly ball deep enough to center to bring Hanahan in from third and tie the game.

Then McCoy came up with runners at first and second with two outs and a chance to win the game.

On what was going through his mind at the plate, McCoy said “A lot… nothing. I was all over the place. I was just trying to put the ball in play. With two strikes, our approach is to hit it backside. (Waite) left me a curveball out in front and I was able to slap it over the second baseman’s head.”

Ungerbuehler raced around third and slid head first into home plate well-ahead of the right fielder’s throw, and the celebration was on.

“There wasn’t that much pressure on me because the guys in front me executed so well,” McCoy said of his ninth inning plate appearance. “I knew I would execute next.”

“Good teams win games late,” Brewer said. “We preach that. We’re really fortunate we were able to do that today.”

As uplifting as the end of the game was for the Etta Express, it was equally deflating for Baldwin Wallace, which plays Heidelberg at 2 p.m. today in an elimination game.

“The first three base-runners (in the ninth), we gave to them,” said Baldwin Wallace head coach Brian Harrison. “That’s the frustrating part.

“Nobody gets mad at getting beat. It’s frustrating losing a game we felt we should’ve had.”

Marietta acknowledged the benefit of playing on its home field.

“We’re sleeping in our beds, playing on our field in front of our fans, who were exceptional today,” Brewer said.

“There’s an advantage. You find some comfort in all of those things.”

“It’s definitely a lot easier when you’re at home playing in front of your home fans where you practice every day,” McCoy said. “Especially because when we’re in practice we pick up the intensity. When I step in that box, I’ve stepped in that box numerous times before.”

Jason Byers pitched a scoreless top of the ninth inning to earn the victory for Marietta. Herstine started and pitched the first eight innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits. The right-hander labored at times, walking five batters, but did well enough to keep his team in the game until the end.

“I had to continue to throw strikes,” Herstine said. “My first-pitch strikes weren’t the best, but when I was ahead I pitched well and I pitched better.”

The Etta Express has hung its hat all year on pitching and defense with a little timely hitting mixed in. Thursday was no exception.

“I thought (Herstine) was really good today,” Brewer said. “I thought he was really sharp and we certainly needed that.

“Obviously, the offense was not very explosive today. But it was efficient and that’s what it takes to win games like this when a kid is dealing a little bit out there on the mound.”