Central Magnet baseball needed to beat Upperman for a fifth straight time this season to claim its first Region 4-AA title.
Unfortunately, Central didn’t have the same lineup as the previous four meetings, and the injury-plagued Tigers fell 6-5 Wednesday night at Starplex.
“We had three starters hurt, but we had kids that haven’t been playing get in there and do a good job,” Central coach Buddy Powers said. “We had guys out, but we still had opportunities. And we still got this next game to play.”
Three cogs to Central’s District 8-AA championship club were either out or limited. Right-handed first baseman Colt Flippo (broken left hand) served only as a courtesy runner. Right-handed pitcher Austin Worley (broken left hand) started on the mound, but he did not bat. And third baseman John Messick (knee) did not play.
The trio usually makes up the Nos. 3, 4 and 6 hitters in Central’s batting order. But they were absent from it Wednesday night.
Powers said he hopes all three players will be able to contribute in some way in the sectional round either Friday or Saturday at Region 3-AA champion Sequoyah. The exact day of the game is yet to be determined because of Sequoyah’s graduation ceremony.
“Neither (Flippo nor Worley) could swing a bat, but we’ll find out toward the end of the week. There is a possibility they could come back and play a little bit (as designated hitters, at least),” Powers said. “We are going to see how it plays out the next couple days. Either way, we’re still one win away (from the state tournament).
“And we still put up five runs with a makeshift lineup. Our kids still battled, but we just didn’t execute for one bad inning and it cost us.”
Central beat Upperman twice in the regular season and twice more in the District 8-AA tournament, including last week’s league title game. And it appeared the Tigers had this one in hand as well early on.
Central cruised through the first two innings. Worley did not allow a hit, and the Tigers plated three runs.
Jacob Crume brought in two runs on a single to center in the first, scoring Tyler Egawa and McKenzie Jackson.
In the second, Taylor Saling singled to left, stole second base, advanced to third on an errant throw and scored on a passed ball to put Central ahead 3-0.
But Upperman stormed back with five runs in the third. Two triples, two singles and a walk marked a string of five straight batters to reach base. Joe Jones’ bases-loaded triple to the rightfield corner scored three runs, and then he came home on a ground ball for a 5-3 Upperman lead.
Jackson’s RBI triple to the right-centerfield fence sparked a two-run third inning for Central to tie it 5-5.
But Worley’s outing ended in the fourth frame after giving up doubles to Dalton Droneburger and Dylan Hedgecoth, which scored another run for a 6-5 Upperman advantage.
Jackson, Central’s third pitcher of the night, shut down the Upperman lineup. The hard-throwing right-handed reliever struck out six batters in 2 2/3 innings. Jackson fanned back-to-back batters with the bases loaded to end the fifth, and he struck out three straight in the seventh.
“Later in the game I was really picking it up,” Jackson said. “I really wanted that one, but we didn’t get it. This is a hard one to take.”
Central did not register a base hit in the final four innings, and its lone base runner during that span was thrown out trying to steal second. Crume went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to lead Central.
Jones and Hedgecoth had two hits apiece for Upperman. Reliever Winston Cannon picked up the win.
Upperman 6, Central 5
Upperman 005 100 0 — 6 5 2
Central 212 000 0 — 5 6 0
Droneburger, Cannon (4) and Simmons. Worley, Foster (4) and Jackson (5). W – Cannon. L – Worley.