A funny thing happened on the way to the River Ridge Patriots’ rout of Refuel on Monday afternoon in the American Legion state tournament at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium.
Refuel managed to turn it into a nail-biter.
River Ridge rolled to a 10-0 lead and needed only two outs in the seventh inning to end the game under the mercy rule. But with one out in the inning, Refuel rallied for four runs, then came back in the eighth to score five more — most of them on Jace Nini’s grand slam.
Yet, the Patriots managed to hold on to take an 11-9 win and live to play another day.
Patriots coach Johnny Curtis appeared quite relieved after his team’s escape.
“Right when you think you have things in control, you know, the baseball bug sometimes bites you,” said Curtis, whose team will play Retif Oil on Tuesday night. “They made some good swings. They have a good lineup. They won some games for a reason. We knew sooner or later we were going to have a barrage. I just didn’t expect a grand slam.”
The bug seemed to bite Refuel early and often Monday. The Shaw-based team, which had gotten 10-run-ruled and no-hit by Gauthier & Amedee on Sunday, helped the Patriots with three errors and a few other costly miscues. The Patriots pounded seven hits off of starter Cory Nini, who was relieved with one out in the fourth inning after River Ridge had taken a 7-0 lead.
The Patriots scored six of their runs on five hits in the fourth inning, sending 10 men to the plate. River Ridge finished with 12 hits off of three Refuel pitchers.
Every Patriot except one scored at least one run in the game, three players scored two and four players had two hits. Brandon Davis singled in the second and hit a three-run double in the fourth.
Patriots starter Ian Landreneau, meanwhile, held Refuel to four hits through the first six innings. Landreneau walked five and struck out six and got out of bases-loaded jams in the fourth and the fifth innings.
In the seventh, he got Lance Landry to ground out to shortstop for the first out, but then gave up singles to Wayne Templet and leadoff man Caiden Reid. Josh Pantoja then singled to right field to score Templet and Reid.
At that point, Curtis pulled Landreneau in favor of Austin Haensel, who finished the game. He gave up a run-scoring double to Brandon Guillot and an RBI single to Kyle Flettrich.
River Ridge added one run in the eighth when John Shaw walked, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a misplayed grounder by Taj Bickham.
Then Refuel made it interesting. Cody Sposito led off with a single, but the next two batters flied out. Then Reid singled, Pantoja singled for a run and Guillot walked to load the bases. That set the table for Jace Nini, who sent a ball off the foul pole in left field for a grand slam, cutting the Patriots’ lead to 11-9. But that’s as close as Refuel would get. Both teams left runners stranded in the ninth.
“We just waited too long to get things going offensively,” said Refuel coach Kirk Bullinger. “And we struggled mightily defensively throughout the game. That’s what did us in.”