Blessed Trinity senior catcher Matt Skole stepped into the batter’s box with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the seventh inning.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound first baseman, who has signed to play collegiately for Georgia Tech, stood at the plate with the go-ahead run in scoring position.
But South Effingham freshman Tanner Burch brought an end to the drama, retiring the Titans’ titanic first baseman on a called third strike, preserving the Mustangs’ wild 10-9 victory Tuesday night.
“That was a great ballgame,” South Effingham coach Tony Kirkland said after his third-ranked Class AAA Mustangs downed the No. 5-ranked team. “(We) knew they are a very talented team. They’re huge. They’ve got some of the better prospects in the state. I wanted to roll our team out there and see what they could do.”
Said senior third baseman Chris Zittrouer, who belted the game-winning homer of the win: “It means a lot. They’ve got two people who have signed with D-I colleges.”
What the Mustangs did was rally for five runs in the bottom of the sixth after trailing 8-5. Marcus Zeigler doubled down the left field line to start the inning, and he scored when center fielder Jake Skole’s throw sailed past Matt Skole on Michael Miller’s single to center.
Two walks and a John Roberts sacrifice fly later, Zittrouer ripped reliever Ryan List’s pitch for a three-run homer to left and a 10-8 lead.
“I was looking for a nice pitch to hit,” the Mustangs senior third baseman said. “It happened to be a fastball right down the pipe.”
An inning earlier, Zittrouer barely missed hitting one out and giving the Mustangs three consecutive home runs.
The Mustangs were down 8-3 going into the bottom of the fifth, when Colby May lined a homer to left off Titans reliever J.D. Sabo. Roberts then hit the next pitch for his 11th home run of the season, and Zittrouer chased left fielder Blake Jenkins back to the warning track.
“I wasn’t sure if it was gone because I hit it off the handle,” he said.
Added Kirkland: “I’m not an optimistic person by nature, but I saw Zittrouer (hitting the third in a row). His
just happened later in the ballgame.”
The Titans (10-4) struck first, as Alex Cruz delivered a two-out, two-run double to right center in the second. Zittrouer led off with a double and later scored on Miller’s single to right. Jake Youmans tied the game, dashing home on a wild pitch.
The Titans got to Mustangs starter Zach Anderson in the third, pushing across three runs. They loaded the bases on two hits and a walk, but Anderson got Matt Lobacz to line into a double play. Andy Vogel, however, lined a 1-2 pitch past a diving Zittrouer and into left field for a two-run double.
South Effingham got a run back in the bottom of the third on Zittrouer’s fielder’s choice, but Crisafi — an offensive lineman being recruited by Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt — ended the inning by knocking down Youmans’ smash for a double play.
Mustangs reliever Ian Byrd worked a scoreless fourth before the Titans, behind Lobacz’s leadoff homer to right field, scored three runs to take a 7-3 lead in the fifth.
“I knew we had to swing the bats with them, and we did a great job of matching them,” Kirkland said. “I never once thought we were at a point it was insurmountable. I thought we could match them. The question was — could we keep them at bay?”
After the Mustangs (12-4) roared back to take the lead for the first time, Tyler Dodd retired the first two batters in order to start the seventh. But he gave up back-to-back doubles to Cruz and Court Kasten. Jake Skole and Ricky Kleban drew walks before Burch, one of three freshmen to play in the game, was summoned to face the hulking Matt Skole.
The Titans finished with 12 hits, as Vogel and Cruz each went 2-for-4 with two RBIs for the Titans and Lobacz was 2-for-3. The Mustangs had 10 hits as Roberts finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Zittrouer was 2-for-4 and drove in four runs. Zeigler and Miller each went 2-for-3.
“I am really, really proud of them,” Kirkland said of his team. “This group is fun to watch when they are having fun.”
The Mustangs travel to Richmond Hill for Region 3-AAA game on Friday.