By Ted Waddell
JEFFERSONVILLEApril 29, 2002 It was a heart-stopping heartbreaker.
On Friday afternoon, it looked like the visiting Liberty Indians were going to cruise to victory over the Sullivan West Bulldogs in an OCIAA Division IV baseball game.
With Liberty (2-7, 1-4 OCIAA) holding onto a 4-2 lead going into the sixth, SW (6-2, 4-2 OCIAA) rallied with a pair of runs to tie it up 4-4.
When neither team scored in the seventh inning, it was on to extra innings. In the eighth, with the game looking like it was headed into really extra innings, Jonathan Fanning stepped up to the plate for the Bulldogs.
With one out and the count at 3-1, the 17-year-old senior got what he was waiting for a fastball from Liberty pitcher Adam Myshtari. As the pitch sailed over the plate, Fanning connected and sent the ball over the fence into the trees for a 330-foot homer to give SW a dramatic 5-4 victory.
At first there was a bit of confusion as the games hero was held up on third base, but after the umpires checked the rules of the house, Fanning was waved across the plate into the arms of his cheering teammates.
He got me (out) in a previous at bat, so I was expecting a fastball, said Fanning, who has been playing varsity baseball since the ninth grade. I waited for it, and I got it . . . it feels good.
Asked how the newly merged squad is doing these days, he replied, Were really starting to come together as a team. Its nice playing with kids from the other schools.
Liberty scored first in the opening frame as lead-off batter Ashton Richards singled up the middle, advanced to second with a stolen base and then to third on a passed ball. Richards crossed the plate on a passed ball to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
James Henry started off Sullivan West in the second inning with a base hit, and moved over to second on a passed ball. With one out, he advanced to third on a grounder by Jake Sauer-Jones. Justin Pinkel beat out a suicide squeeze bunt for an RBI single to score Henry and make it a 1-1 ballgame.
In the top of third, it looked like the Indians were going to take the brass ring, as they racked up a trio of runs.
Bulldogs starting pitcher Rob Taylor served up three walks to load the bags with the top of the Indians batting order: Richards, Derrick Blume and Joe Colacurio. Randy Carusos single scored Richards and Blume. After Myshtari flew out to center field, Colacurcio crossed the plate on an error to give Liberty a three run lead, 4-1.
In the fourth, Sauer-Jones and Pinkel each reached base thanks to a walk. Taylor then singled to score Sauer-Jones and close the Indians lead to 4-2.
The Bulldogs rallied in the sixth to tie it up 4-4. Pinkel singled and Mike Popolillo grounded into a fielders choice. Taylor reached on a base hit. With runners at second and third, Fanning struck out as he watched a Myshtari fastball blow across the plate.
But Kyle Bright sent a grounder down the third base line. He beat out the throw to first base and Popolillo scored on the play. Taylor then scooted home on the overthrow at first.
Then Fanning stepped up to the plate in the eighth, and proved hed done his homework by studing Myshtaris pitches. At the crack of a bat, it was all over and the Bulldogs took home the one-run win.
Were tried our best, Myshtari said. Im just sorry it didnt turn out the right way. I think were going to turn around and end up with a good season.
Bright took over from Taylor on the mound for the Bulldogs in the top of the fourth.
It was good, he said of the extra- inning victory. Im glad we came back to win it.
Liberty Coach James OConnor said the bottom line was Fannings homer.
We came out strong and had three runs in the third, but they got a couple of breaks in the sixth and Fanning got his home run that decided the whole thing in the end, OConnor said. Im proud of the way my kids played today. I think were going to keep improving.
SW Coach Kurt Scheibe called it a very tightly played game on both sides of the field.
Liberty played a great game, and their lefty pitcher kept the ball over the plate and didnt walk many batters, Scheibe said. We hung around and scored two big runs in the bottom of the sixth and we got a real big home run in the eighth to win it.