Warren wins sectional: Thomas Miller’s walk-off homer lifts Warriors past rival Tigers, 5-4
Marietta rallied from four runs down to tie the game in the top of the sixth, but Miller’s blast over the tall blue wall in left-center field gave the Warriors their 10th consecutive win and a sectional title.
Miller narrowly missed slugging a game-winning homer three pitches earlier when his long drive down the left field line curved foul at the last second, but the junior catcher made good on his second chance.
“I got down in the count early and I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball and get on base,” said Miller of the blast off of MHS pitcher Corbin Alkire. “I got the first ball elevated and I was kind of disappointed when it went foul but I was able to do the same thing and keep it fair.”
Warren scored a single run in the opening inning and took advantage of some not so spectacular Marietta defense in the third to jump out to a 4-0 lead.
Warrior second baseman Evan Gandee singled with two outs in the first inning before stealing second base and coming in to score when the Tigers made the first of three fielding errors in the game.
Drew Huffman drew a walk with one out in the third inning and scored when Warren starting pitcher Seth Dennis singled and the Tigers committed two more errors.
Gandee then touched up Marietta starting pitcher Derek Duckworth for a two-run homer over the left field wall to push the Warrior lead to 4-0.
Dennis was outstanding over his five innings on the mound as the Warrior sophomore held the Tigers scoreless on three hits before being relieved by Brett Gandee to begin the sixth.
Marietta quickly loaded the bases against the new Warrior hurler when Dakota Miller legged out an infield single, Jarrett Jackson singled and Mark Duckworth reached base when the Warriors threw wildly to first on his sacrifice bunt attempt.
Derek Duckworth got the first run of the game in for the Tigers with a sacrifice fly to center field before catcher Justin Thompson walked to reload the bases.
Cole Alkire’s infield single plated the second run and Kail Hill followed by drilling a double into the gap in left center field to score a pair of runs and tie the game at 4-4.
With runners on second and third and just one out, Warren head coach Ryan Lemley elected to replace Gandee on the mound with Drew Huffman and the lefty managed to get the next two outs without allowing another run to score to keep the game tied at 4-4.
“How about the resiliency of our kids? We got punched there and we talked about how are we going to respond,” said Lemley. “Drew Huffman coming in with runners on second and third and one out and closing the door was huge. That’s what seniors do and he came in and stepped up for us today.”
Marietta threatened in the top of the seventh when with one out Jackson singled and one out later Derek Duckworth picked up his third hit of the game but once again Huffman got out of trouble when he got Thompson to fly out to center to set the stage for the dramatic finish.
After relieving Duckworth in the fourth inning with two outs, Corbin Alkire had retired all seven Warriors hitters he had pitched to before facing Miller to lead off the bottom of the seventh.
After narrowly missing on the loud foul, Miller connected on a 2-2 pitch for his first home run of the season at the perfect time.
Miller also gave credit to the job that his battery mate did on the mound to give him the opportunity for the walkoff.
“That was an amazing job by Drew (Huffman) to come into a situation like that and not give up any runs,” said Miller. “That was so critical because if he gives up any more runs we probably don’t win that game.”
Lemley was pleased to see Miller come up with such a huge hit.
“Honestly Thomas had struggled at the plate some this year and even been DH’d for,” said Lemley. “For him to step up for his team like that was just awesome and couldn’t happen to a nicer kid.”
The win snapped a nine-game Warrior losing streak to Marietta and improved their season mark to 18-7.
After knocking off top-seeded Unioto on Tuesday night, the Warriors will next take on number two-seeded Circleville in a district semifinal Monday evening at 7 p.m. at Bob Wren Stadium on the campus of Ohio University in Athens.
The loss was obviously a tough one to swallow for the Tigers, who finished the season with a very respectable 17-11 record.
“We got down early and once again we battled our way back and I’m very proud of the way we handled that,” said MHS head coach Josh McKitrick. “All the credit has to go to Warren though because they put the bat on the ball. We wish them all the luck in the world and I hope they go all the way.”
The game marked the final one for Tiger seniors Kail Hill, Derek Duckworth, Brady Vincent and Max Cogswell.