April 18th, 2012
St. Xavier Rallies For District Baseball Win
Tigers' McFarland leads team to 2-1 victory over Manual
Colin McFarland had already been on the losing end of a 1-0 decision against a district baseball opponent this season.
On Tuesday, the St. Xavier High School senior took personal action to ensure it wouldn't happen again.
Between a complete game performance on the mound, providing a game-tying double during his team's final at-bat and scoring the eventual game-winning run, McFarland's prolific two-way performance led his Tigers to a dramatic 25th District come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Manual at Derby City Field.
With St. X down to its final three outs and trailing the Crimsons 1-0 in the top of the 7th inning, McFarland successfully connected with the first pitch he saw and tied the game on a RBI double to deep left field.
Three batters later, as pinch hitter Marc Hellmueller stood at the plate for the Tigers, McFarland's confident lead off second base drew a throw from Manual catcher Josh Bynum. Behind coverage miscommunication by the Manual middle infielders and an errant throw by Bynum that skipped into centerfield, McFarland raced home from second, slid head first under an attempted tag and was mobbed by teammates near home plate after being called safe by the umpire.
“Our team usually works on something called a ‘work ahead play’ where we try to have the other team throw down, and sometimes it works. This time the throw just away from (the catcher),” said McFarland. “I was standing on second (base) for a while and noticed that the pitcher was just giving one look (back to 2nd) and then going straight home, and shortstop and second baseman weren’t really holding on, so I took a bigger lead.”
After scoring the go-around run, McFarland returned to the mound in the bottom of the 7th and managed to finish off Manual behind a game-ending, unassisted double play by senior Andrew Willinger. The first baseman snagged a line drive and caught Crimson base runner Nathan Smith breaking away from the bag.
Willinger dove back toward first, slammed the base with his glove, and gave St. Xavier its 8th straight win and 10th in the team's last 11 games. The Tiger victory also snapped the four-game winning streak of Manual.
Willinger, who hit one of his team's four doubles during the contest, started the 7th inning rally with a leadoff two bagger and scored the tying run on McFarland's extra base hit.
“Those back-to-back doubles were huge and set the tone in the 7th inning, and once we had it tied everybody thought, ‘This is our ballgame’,” said St. X head coach Andy Porta. “It was just a matter of whether we were going to win it in the 7th or win it in extra innings. That was fantastic.”
The Tigers were handcuffed during most of the game and only had five hits against the outstanding performance from Manual starting pitcher Harrison Scanlon (2-3). The Crimsons junior struck out nine Tigers, issued no walks and also completed all seven innings despite the loss.
“You have to give their kid credit. (Scanlon) pitched a heck of a ballgame,” said Porta. “I thought through about the first five innings, he pitched better than (Male’s Blake) Oyler did against us. We didn’t hit too many balls squarely against (Scanon) and had a lot of kids fooled who were up there swinging and missing.”
After McFarland retired the first nine Manual batters he faced, the Crimsons went ahead in the bottom of the 4th inning when senior Brandon Smith led off with a single, advanced to 2nd on a passed ball, got to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Scanlon's two-out double to centerfield to put Manual up 1-0.
The Crimsons seemed poised to add to its lead in the 5th inning after putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with just one out, but St. X thwarted Manual's squeeze play when McFarland charged the successful bunt and flipped it to sophomore catcher Austin Clemons in time to tag Nathan Smith, who was charging from third base.
“That could have gone either way. That was a tough play,” said Porta. “We were sitting there thinking that (the squeeze) might be coming, but I guess what made me surprised was that it was on a 2-0 count. You think maybe he might take one more strike and then put it on.”
McFarland, who walked none and allowed just four Manual hits, proceeded to register one of his five strikeouts to officially escape the jam and kept the Tigers' deficit to just one run. He avoided trouble once more in the 6th inning after hitting a batter with one out, but recovered by picking off Manual's Ben Hatchen, who was attempting to steal second base.
“He battles, he battles, he battles,” said Porta of McFarland. “He’s not an overpowering pitcher. He’s not going to strikeout double digit guys. But he gets a lot of ground outs and usually he gets ahead in the count. He’s definitely been our best pitcher to this point in the season.”
St. X senior Conrad Ulmer seemed to give the Tigers a shot in the arm when he hammered a two-out double off the base of the left field wall in the top of the 6th, but he was stranded when senior Jake Johnson's shallow fly ball to right field was run down by Manual outfielder Connor Kriz.
It appeared that McFarland, who was the tough-luck loser to No. 1 Male back on April 2, was headed for his third 1-0 loss of the season as the game reached the 7th inning. The thought apparently crossed the mind of both the pitcher and his coach.
“In about the fifth inning I thought, ‘Oh here we go again – (McFarland) might have another 1-0 game where he pitched a great ballgame but came out on the losing end’,” said Porta.
“I was thinking the same thing going into the 6th (inning) when it was 1-0,” said McFarland. “But Conrad Ulmer got that big double off the wall and that really got us pumped up. We knew we could hit (Scanlon), it just came late in the game.”
Four of St. X's five hits were doubles during the game. Tigers junior Gunnar Wagoner provided the other hit - an infield single he legged out in the top of the third. Wagoner was the game's first base runner at that point. Ulmer, Johnson, Willinger and McFarland - St. Xavier's No. 2-5 hitters, each went 1-for-3 during the game.
Manual was led offensively by Brandon Smith (1-for-3; run scored) and Scanlon (1-for-3; RBI). Nathan Smith and Bynum also combined to go for 2-for-4.
The Tigers, which are now 16-4 on the season, won the Manual-hosted Derby City Classic last week during Spring Break and returned to Derby City Field on Tuesday on a mission to defeat a district opponent that St. X will play twice in two days this week.
“It’s huge,” said Porta. “I feel like that was their ace. And if you can get the first one on their turf, that’s big. But we’re not relaxing at all. We told the guys that today was the single most important game of the season. Well guess what? Now tomorrow is the most important game of the season, so we’ll be ready to go. But it’s huge to get that first one, on their turf, against their best pitcher.”
McFarland (3-2), who was the MVP of the aforementioned Derby City Classic last week, says his squad is clicking because of the on and off field chemistry that is being created and maintained.
“Over Spring Break we did a lot of team bonding. We actually went bowling, which was a lot of fun,” said a smiling McFarland. “This is just a really good team. We all have fun together and we’re just one big team – not just a group of kids.”
With a sweep of the Derby City event and a pair of doubleheader wins against Mater Dei (IN) over the weekend, St. X has its longest winning streak of the season and is showing an ability to defeat quality opponents on consecutive days.
“We haven’t talked to the kids about it, but as a coaching staff you’re thinking that in the postseason, if you want to win it all, you’ve got to win three (games) in a row in the regional tournament that are do or die games. And you’ve got to win four games in the state tournament,” said Porta. “So to win eight in a row (overall), especially against some of the teams we’re playing, that’s a pretty big accomplishment. We want to keep it going and don’t want to peak early.”
“We’re beating people, but there is still room for improvement. And that’s a good sign.”
St. X (16-4) and Manual (10-8) will play again on Wednesday evening in another 25th District showdown. This game, which is scheduled for a 6pm first pitch, will be played at the Tigers' Mueller Field.
St. Xavier High School Hall of Famer and former Major League Baseball player Chris Burke was in attendance for Tuesday's game. The former Tiger great, who also attended St. Albert the Great grade school in Louisville, led the University of Tennessee to the College World Series and hit one of the most memorable postseason home runs in history when his walk-off homer for the Houston Astros ended Game 4 of the 2005 Division Series against the Atlanta Braves - a game that lasted 18 innings, took 5 hours and 50 minutes to play and that stands as the longest playoff game in major league postseason history.