The Rowan County Vikings gave it all they had in a seventh inning duel last Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the state tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Down 2-0 going into the last half inning, the Vikings’ bottom of the line up had the crowd on their feet.
“That is the thing about this bunch. They are going to battle until the last out and that showed tonight. We just didn’t get it going soon enough and kinda ran out of time,” said Rowan County coach Scott Collins.
On two outs, Chase Alderman singled on a line drive to right field and pinch hitter, Aiden Leuenberger, ground a ball perfectly down the left field line for an RBI double to cut the score, 2-1.
“I had been in that situation before against Boyd County. I just had to step up and get the job done,” said Leuenberger.
Vikings senior Ryan Mullen’s at bat was one for the record books. He held the fate of the Vikings’ season in his hands and dug deep. Fouling off six down the right field line, he finally drew a walk on the 11th pitch. His epic at bat forced McCracken County ace Jacob Ehling off the mound.
“He just came up there in the nine hole and just battled, battled, battled. He wasn’t going to give up,” said Collins.
Ehling pitched an exceptional game for the Mustangs. He lasted up until the final out throwing six strikeouts and giving up the only run of the game on four hits.
“Give credit to their pitcher. He kept us off balance. He started out with a bunch of change ups and we were getting ahead of it a bit,” said Collins.
He was relieved by Dylan Schnieder who threw the last out when Matthew Gagliano flew out to right fielder Ben Higdon. The Mustangs defeated Trinity in the semifinals 6-5 before falling 4-2 in the finals against Tates Creek.
The Mustangs had jumped on the Vikings early. Higdon doubled on the first pitch of the game and was plated when Logan Verbal doubled on a hard ground ball into right field.
The Mustangs tallied seven hits on AJ Hacker, two more hits than he had given up to any other opponent this season. Hacker was not going to let the game slip away from him with ease. He threw 100 pitches and eight strikeouts before being relieved by Matthew Gagliano.
“AJ has been battling for us the last three big games. He has run up the pitch count into the one hundreds, so he had a little bit of fatigue going into today. But he competed. He competed like he has all year, because that is just what he does. Day in and day out. You can’t take anything away from that. We hated having to take him out but he was getting up there in the pitch count,” said Collins.
Gagliano stepped in to close out the sixth inning. He threw three strikes, the second a dropped third that allowed Kiael Waldon to reach first. Corey Binion entered from the bullpen to pitch the final inning.
The 1-0 lead carried the Mustangs through six innings before plating a second in the seventh. Grant Godwin batted in Elijah Wheat with a line drive single to right field for a 2-0 lead that allowed them to outlast the Vikings.
The Mustangs’ victory over the Vikings ended a 31-game winning streak and the Vikings’ season. The Vikings finished with a 39-4 record.
“It was disappointing, obviously, but these kids gave us everything they could and we asked for. I couldn’t be more proud of this group. I hate it for our seven seniors and I am really going to hate not seeing those boys next season,” said Collins.
Krystal Williams can be reached at kwilliams@themoreheadnews. com or by telephone at 784-4116.