The Hilltoppers staged a 0-2 rally and Mother Nature took care of the rest in Houston’s 4-2 win in five innings over Ripley April 24.
The Tigers held a 2-0 lead through the top of the fifth and that’s when the Toppers made their move.
Houston’s Reid Carter singled over shortstop and Clay Hillhouse sent him home with an RBI single off the centerfield wall. Wes Parker’s sac bunt was good for an RBI and an overthrown ball on a pickoff attempt let Hillhouse cross the plate for a 3-2 Hilltopper lead.
The Houston club closed the inning up 4-2 and the rain began in the top of the sixth. Lightning fostered a 30-minute delay of game and play could not be resumed after the recess due to an incoming storm. Per MHSAA rules, after five innings and a rain delay, the team leading is declared the winner putting the Hilltoppers up 1-0 in the best-of-three series.
“We were very fortunate in Game One Thursday,” said Houston coach Scott Gann. “We had a really slow start but in the fifth we got hot and took the lead.”
Gann wasn’t entirely pleased with having the game called, however.
“I totally disagree with that ruling, especially in the playoffs, but a win is a win and we’ll take it,” Gann said.
So, win again!
Game Two saw the Toppers head north to Tiger land and get off to a quicker start.
“We got runners on early and put on a few things to get the ball rolling for us,” Gann said.
He credited a double steal from Justin Hardin and Reid Carter as the spark that set the Toppers off and strong pitching throughout the game adding consistency.
“Clay Hillhouse was very effective only giving up a couple of hard hit balls in seven innings,” Gann said. “He had a great defense behind him as well. Wes Parker had a for-sure double off the wall in left and threw a rope to second base and Tanner Smith made an excellent relay to Garrison Howell for the first out in the late stages of the game. Clay also started a 1-6-3 double play to get out of a jam.”
The Toppers took a 4-1 win to advance in playoffs and will face Cleveland (18-8, 10-0) this week. Houston will travel to the Wildcats’ diamond Thursday and will host Friday at 6 p.m. Saturday will be the tie-breaker on the road if needed.
“We don’t really know what to expect because they are so far out of our area,” Gann said. “We just don’t know much (about them). But we know they will be good competition. They’ve won their division the past few years and given some pretty good teams in our area tough series during that time. We just need to continue to get great starting pitching with some solid defense and our bats definitely need to heat up.”
Gann appreciates the fan support the team has received and hopes it will carry on through the week’s efforts.
“This time of year is really fun,” Gann said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to get the great fan support we’ve had.”