PULASKI — The Riverheads Gladiators were one out away from earning the opportunity to defend its state baseball championship.
One bloop hit later, their season was over.
Auburn’s Trevor Miles blooped an opposite-field hit down the left-field line with the bases loaded to cap a three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh as the Eagles stunned the Gladiators 4-3 in the VHSL Class 1 state semifinals at Pulaski’s historic Calfee Park.
“That’s a tough way to see it end,” said Riverheads head coach Rodney Painter. “There was a lot of good baseball played on that field today. Both teams had some chances. At the end, they got the big hit.”
Auburn struck first on Parker’s Hale’s run-scoring double in the bottom of the second and Eagles’ starter Taylor Newcome made the 1-0 lead stand up until the fifth inning.
Riverheads’ Adam Painter led off the top of the fifth with a base hit and moved to third on a single by Grant Painter. Michael Robertson then hit a long sacrifice fly to left, scoring Adam Painter to pull Riverheads even at 1-1.
The Gladiators then grabbed the lead with two runs in the sixth. Jakob King led off the inning with a single and Forrest Shuey walked. Aidan Miller then reached on an error to load the bases with no outs. With one out, Adam Painter lined a single over the drawn-in infield on a 2-2 count, chasing home a pair of runs to put Riverheads on top 3-1.
Riverheads starting pitcher Elijah Dunlap stranded two runners on base in the bottom of the sixth and took the mound in the seventh nursing a two-run lead.
Hale led off the bottom of the seventh and reached on a free pass and a dropped fly ball in the outfield gave the Eagles two runners on with no outs. Newcome then hit a hard one-hopper that went off the glove of third baseman Braeson Fulton for a base hit. Hale scored on the play to make it a one-run game, 3-2.
With runners on second and third and still no outs, the Gladiators intentionally walked Brady Harris to load the bases.
Dunlap then struck out Keith Reed swinging and Carter Keith looking to move Riverheads to within one out of advancing. Miles then blooped the game-winner just inside the foul line and just out of the reach of diving shortstop Grant Painter to drive in the winning runs for the Eagles.
“Where Grant was positioned against a left-handed hitter, when the ball left the bat, I didn’t think he would be able to get there,” said the Riverheads head coach.
Adam Painter led the Riverheads offense with three of the team’s six hits. Dunlap went the distance, allowing four runs, just one earned on five hits. He struck out five batters. The Gladiators defense aided Dunlap’s effort by turning three double plays.
Riverheads had a runner in scoring position in the first, third, fourth and seventh innings but failed to score on any of those chances.
“Yeah, we had some chances, especially early in the game to put some runs on the board, but we couldn’t come up with the big hit,” said Rodney Painter.
Riverheads finishes the 2019 season with a 24-3 record.
Auburn 4, Riverheads 3
Dunlap and Shuey. Newcome, Harris (7) and Sparrer.
WP – Harris. LP – Dunlap. HR – none.