WARSAW – The Warsaw baseball team was like the United State Postal Service Monday night.
Nothing was going to stop the league-leading Tigers from delivering another key conference win on the diamond.
Host Warsaw overcame the elements, including rain, cold and the dark of night, as well as visiting Plymouth to hold on for a big 9-8 victory in a critical Northern Lakes Conference contest.
The Tigers, who got a big night from the trio of Marselo Rodriguez, Henry Howard and Zach Witt at the plate, improve to 10-6 overall and move to 8-2 to continue to sit atop the NLC standings. Plymouth falls to 12-7 overall and drops to 6-4 in league play.
The game, which was played in wet and cold conditions, was interesting until the final out.
The Pilgrims, who had lost 2-0 at home to Warsaw back on April 22, scored a pair of runs in their final at-bat in the seventh to cut the Warsaw lead to 9-8. Plymouth had runners on first and second before cleanup hitter Spencer Maecroft hit into a 6-4 fielder’s choice to end the tense game with darkness fast approaching.
“To be 8-2 in the conference is a great place to be and is outstanding,” said Warsaw coach Mike Hepler. “But, we can’t rest on it. We have to come back to practice Tuesday and get right back to work. We have tough NLC games at NorthWood and at Northridge this week.”
Warsaw won the game despite allowing 11 walks. The Tigers gave up three runs in the first frame with three walks and two errors a big part of it, but never blinked.
Warsaw answered the bell in the home half of the first inning with four runs of their own to take the lead for good. The first four batters, including Witt and Rodriguez, had hits. A two-run double by Rodriguez made it 3-2 before a sacrifice fly by Howard tied it. The hosts grabbed the lead on a groundout by Blake Foreman.
“We got off to a little rough start in the first, but it was nice the way we swung the bats,” noted Hepler. “I can’t say enough about our hitters right now. They are putting the bat on the ball. To their credit, they have stepped up big these past two weeks.
“We did enough good things to win tonight. We made enough timely plays defensively. I credit our pitchers for toughing it out. It was a tough night to pitch. There was no flow to the game with having to keep changing baseballs due to the weather. That makes it hard to get any rhythm.”
The Tigers added a pair of runs in the second, including an RBI single by Rodriguez, to make it 6-3.
The pivotal point of the game came in the top of the third frame. The first three Plymouth batters reached on walks off Warsaw starter Witt, who entered the game 4-0 on the hill. Hepler then brought in Braxton Tennant. The junior right-hander allowed just one run to keep his team ahead 6-4. Tennant, who was relieved in the sixth by junior Isaac Lenon, got the win.
“Tennant came in and really gave us big innings when we needed them tonight,” said Hepler.
The Tigers stretched the lead to 8-4 in the fourth when Howard smashed a no-doubt two-run blast to left field with two outs. His shot scored Rodriguez, who had kept the inning alive with a double.
Plymouth cut the lead to 8-6 with a pair of runs in the fifth, but left men on second and third to end the frame. Warsaw got a big run in the fifth on a sacrfice fly by Sterling Hay to make it 9-6.
Hepler has seen his team win three NLC games in a row after a disappointing 1-0 league loss at Elkhart Memorial on May 2.
“The thing right now is that the kids are believing in themselves and our energy is good,” said Hepler. “I like their approach at the plate. We are getting timely hitting.”
Senior Rodriguez had three hits and two RBI, while junior Howard had two hits and three RBI and senior Witt two hits an an RBI.
Jeremy Splix, a senior lefty, took the pitching loss to drop to 2-2.
Warsaw leads the NLC standings at 8-2. Plymouth and Northridge, which beat Concord Monday night, are both 6-4. NorthWood is 6-3 as its NLC game with Wawasee Monday night was suspended due to weather with the host Panthers leading 2-0 in the fourth inning. Both Elkhart Memorial and Goshen are 5-5 in league play.
Plymouth won the junior varsity game by a 12-1 final.
Warsaw will play at NorthWood Wednesday and visit Northridge Friday in NLC games. Plymouth plays at Goshen Wednesday and hosts Wawasee Friday in league action.