The Benton Rangers (17-2, 7-0) hosted a Southern Illinois River-to-River conference rematch against the Massac County Patriots Thursday afternoon. Reminiscent of their first game only 10 days prior, the score remained close and this time, the game needed to be played into extra innings.
But the home team defended their field and walked away with a 5-4 victory and still undefeated in the conference.
"The wind was blowing out and the infield was quicker… for whatever reason I felt like we had a better shot against their pitcher (Noah Farmer)," Brett Blondi, Rangers' coach compared the two games against Massac. "I felt like we were putting better swings on him. Zack pitched when we needed him to and he kept it close."
Junior Zack Avery pitched the first five innings for the Rangers; he gave up only three hits while earning six strike outs.
Right away the Patriots put the pressure on the home team. They did not score any runs in the first four innings, but their bats were awake as they hit long fly balls into the outfield, most of which were caught by the ever-present Rangers' outfielders.
The home team had a slower start and did not get on the scoreboard until the third inning. Junior Hamilton Page started things off with a double to center field. He stole third base off of a Derek Oxford ground out to second base. Page was brought home by Gehrig Wynn who hit a base hit to right field.
Wynn was called out, though, when senior Tyson Houghland popped out to center field while Wynn was attempting to steal. He did not get back to first base in time and a double play was called.
But the run was earned and the Rangers looked to maintain their 1-0 lead. They did not extend their lead in the fourth, but the visitors also did not tally any runs.
In the fifth, Avery faced the heart of the Patriots' lineup and the visitors snatched the lead away with back-to-back RBI hits.
Now down by one run (2-1) the Rangers kicked their game up a notch and used their bats to take the lead back in the bottom of the fifth. With Page and Wynn on base, Houghland smacked a fast ground ball into left field to bring around both runners. Then, Houghland came home off of an RBI double by Parker Williams.
Entering the sixth, the Rangers turned to Page to finish out the game. He let up two hits and earned five strike outs in the three innings that remained in the game.
Much to the chagrin of the home team, the Patriots would not go down easy and they tied the game late in the seventh inning as a result of a 2-run double to the left field wall. The home team attempted to regain the lead in the bottom of the inning, but with their own fresh pitcher on the mound, Wynn, Houghland, and Williams were all stopped at the plate to take the game to the eighth inning.
Page and the Rangers' defense made short work of the Patriots' hitters and then took their turn at the plate again.
Designated hitter of the game Ian McMahon was hit by a pitch to put the winning run on first base. Oliver Davis came in to pinch run for McMahon.
This brought catcher Brett Bonenberger to the plate. Davis stole second base on the first pitch to Bonenberger.
On the next pitch, Bonenberger launched a long fly ball into left field. Davis turned up the gas and scampered home, finishing with a Superman-like slide across the plate before the Patriots' catcher could tag him.
"Not everyone can make those kind of slides, but I was confident in him to get in there," Blondi said of Davis. "He's the kind of kid that… if we can get him on base, he can score for us.
"I think we were trying to do too much late there. I felt like we changed our approach… luckily Ham hung in there on the mound and gave us a chance. It was really important for us to score a run in the eighth and luckily we did."