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Foresters score obscure extra-inning walk-off win

HIT: Junior first baseman Austin Pritchard’s extra-inning walk-off hit gave Huntington a 3–2 victory over Marian on Tuesday.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

The Huntington University baseball team picked up a 3–2 extra-inning Crossroads League win over Marian on Tuesday at Forest Glen Park.

The victory improved the Foresters’ season record to 18–9, including a 12–4 mark in their conference action.

The contest proved to largely be a pitchers’ duel, as freshman Joey Butz and Marian’s Matt Burleton, a 2017 NAIA Honorable Mention All-American, battled on the mound against each other into the seventh inning.

Neither pitcher allowed a run through the first six innings of play, as just a combined four hits were recorded prior to the seventh inning, with the Knights’ lone hit coming in the sixth frame.

It appeared as though Butz would continue his near-perfect outing in the seventh after Marian bunted into a double play, but Caden Jones then sent a pitch into orbit in the next at-bat to open the scoring at 1–0 and chase Butz from the game.

Huntington answered in the bottom of the seventh, as sophomore third baseman Daniel Lichty and junior first baseman Austin Pritchard knocked back-to-back singles to start the frame, with Lichty moving to third on Pritchard’s hit.

In the following at-bat, senior left fielder Jacob Hansen grounded into a double play, but Lichty came home on the play to tie the contest at 1–1.

The score would remain unchanged throughout the rest of regulation, though the Foresters had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning with a chance for a walk-off win.

With offense at a premium, Marian quickly capitalized in the top of the 10th with a lead-off home run—the Knights’ second of the day—to take a 2–1 lead.

However, Huntington was not ready to pack it in, instead putting together an extra-inning rally. In the second at-bat of the frame, freshman second baseman Ian McCutcheon doubled to deep left-center field and scored in the next-at bat compliments of an RBI single by freshman pinch hitter Jarret Gray to even the score at 2–2.

The Foresters were not done yet, though, as senior center fielder Donovan Clark singled in the ensuing at-bat to put a pair of runners on the base paths with just one out.

After a groundout to move Gray and Clark up a base each, Lichty then walked to load the bases with two outs for the second consecutive inning.

This time around, it was Pritchard at the plate. Pritchard sent a pitch over the wall in right field for what seemed to be a walk-off grand slam for a 6–2 Huntington win. However, the home run was nullified after Pritchard was ruled out by the umpire for passing Lichty on the base path, as Lichty and the rest of the Foresters began celebrating once the ball left the park. Gray did score before the out was called, giving Huntington a 3–2 victory, albeit in an obscure fashion.

“Austin hits the home run and then we have Lichty called out between second and third because he thinks the game is over when the ball leaves the park,” said head coach Mike Frame. “So, Austin passes him on the bases. … We had some less than (stellar) decisions there. I wasn’t entirely pleased with that whole episode. You (have to) control your emotions. (Lichty) thought as long as he got to the next base, then the game is over when the ball leaves the park. It’s not. Essentially it is, because the minute the guy from third touches home plate the game is over, but (it) just kind of leaves a doubt in people’s minds. … It was definitely a different kind of ending.”

Though Pritchard’s hit did not officially count as a home run, the RBI single was enough to keep the Foresters atop the Crossroads League standings, as a Marian win would have given them a better conference winning percentage to overtake Huntington.

Butz lasted six and two-third innings in his second collegiate start. Butz gave up just three hits and one earned run while striking out two Knights.

“He wasn’t very good from the standpoint of getting ahead of hitters,” Frame said. “There were a lot of hitter counts, but he made some big pitches when he needed to. … He probably made eight (or) nine pitches that he just had to make them to get people out. You’re not going to be able to do that every time out. (So), good, and maybe not so good from him.”

Junior pitcher Mason Shinabery came on in relief and tossed three and one-third innings and giving up three hits and one earned run while fanning a trio of Marian batters.

The victory was Shinabery’s fourth of the season.

“The game had the feel of a tournament atmosphere,” Frame said. “It’s a quality win. We’ll certainly take that.”

The Foresters will return to action on Friday, as they open a three-game road Crossroads League series against Goshen. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. Games two and three of the series are slated to be played on Saturday, with first pitch for game one of the doubleheader scheduled for a 1 p.m. start. All three games can be viewed live online through the Huntington University athletics website.