The Hilltoppers and Whippets have a history of tough battles and this season has only added to the list.
And Saturday, they met for another one in Game One of the semi-finals of North Half.
The Whippets drew first blood with a run in the top of the third and the Toppers evened it up in the bottom of the fourth. The tie held through the seventh to force an extra inning and both teams scored once in the eighth to force one more.
That was the one the Toppers needed.
After sending the Whippets back to the dugout without scoring in the top of the frame, Houston used the bottom of the ninth at-bat to put them over the top.
Grady Nabors led off with a single over third and stole second and third on Austin Burdine’s at-bat. With Nabors standing on third, Kosciusko’s coaching staff intentionally walked Reid Carter and Denver McQuary, loading the bases and putting eighth-grader Luke Hancock at the plate.
“(He) did not let the situation get too big for him,” said Houston coach Scott Gann.
Hancock watched four balls pass him to draw the walk and send Nabors across the plate for the win.
“Most high school kids are going to try to win the game with a swing, but he was disciplined enough to take a few pitches,” Gann said of Hancock’s composure. “That’s back-to-back, walk-off wins versus Kosciusko for Hancock.”
Hancock hit a walk-off single against Kosy April 11 to put the Toppers at 8-0 in division in the latter part of the regular season.
Gann acknowledged the rivalry between Houston and Koscisusko has ramped up this season with both teams fighting for an advantage.
“We knew this series was going to be intense and the games were going to be absolute battles,” Gann said. “Saturday was just that.”
He gave the Whippets a sincere nod for effort.
“You got to give them credit for battling like that,” Gann said. “(Ryan) Rigby threw an excellent game on the mound for them. But I tip my cap to our guys, too, for competing until the end. I love this group of kids.”
He also credited senior pitcher, Austin Burdine, for consistency on the hill in the win.
“Austin did an excellent job getting out of jams all day long,” Gann said. “He had some really good defense behind him in some tough spots, too. Even though we made three errors, we were able to overcome that.”
Back in action
The Game One win put the Toppers on the road to Kosciusko Monday looking for a series win to send them on to North Half this week.
They didn’t get it on the Whippets home field, returning the series to Houston Tuesday for a third, and final, game.
The Toppers got an early 3-0 lead, but the Whippets used an explosive third inning to rack up seven runs for an 8-3 lead. The Toppers chipped away some in the sixth, but fell 6-10.
Burdine, McQuary and Carter all recorded multiple hits with Burdine adding a triple and Carter hitting a homerun.
The Toppers and Whippets were scheduled to hit the diamond in Houston Tuesday at 6 p.m. for a third-game showdown with the winner earning a berth at North Half.