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Foresters' season comes to close in National Tournament

PITCH: Junior pitcher Alex McCutcheon fires a pitch during Huntington’s 11–2 season-ending loss to No. 10 Middle Georgia State on Tuesday in Macon, Georgia.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

The Huntington University baseball team had their 2019 season come to an end this week, falling in a pair of Opening Round games in the NAIA National Tournament in Macon, Georgia.

The fourth-seeded Foresters fell 7–5 to fifth-seeded British Columbia on Monday before dropping an 11–2 decision to second-seeded No. 10 Middle Georgia State, the host school, on Tuesday.

Monday’s matchup with British Columbia got out to a rocky start for Huntington, as the Thunderbirds’ Mike Fitzsimmons opened the game with a solo blast over the wall in left field for a quick 1–0 British Columbia lead.

The Thunderbirds threatened to do more damage in the top of the first with runners on first and second with just one out, but the Forester defense wiggled their way out of the jam with no further damage done.

Huntington had a chance to get the run back in the bottom of the frame, as sophomore third baseman Daniel Lichty singled and then moved to second on a stolen base before senior left fielder Adam Roser walked to give the Foresters runners on first and second. Huntington could not capitalize, however, flying out for the third out.

A quiet second inning sent the contest to the third inning with British Columbia still holding a 1–0 edge, but the Thunderbirds again drilled a solo home run over the left field wall, this time compliments of Noah Or for a 2–0 British Columbia advantage.

The narrative remained the same in the fourth, as the Thunderbirds teed off their third solo shot of the game thanks to Jordan Day for 3–0 British Columbia lead.

Despite failing to generate much at the plate through the first four innings, Huntington refused to go down quietly. After a leadoff single by freshman second baseman Ian McCutcheon and a hit-by-pitch for senior right fielder Adrian Perez, freshman pinch hitter Jarret Gray stepped to the dish with two on and no outs.

Gray put down a well-placed bunt with the hope of moving his runners up, but the scenario ended up better than anyone wearing white and green could have hoped for, as the British Columbia third baseman sailed his throw over the first baseman’s head, allowing McCutcheon and Perez to both come home. However, the wild play was not done yet, as the right fielder, who eventually backed up the play, fired another errant throw past third base, allowing Gray to come all the way around to score and tie the game at 3–3 on what was intended to be a sacrifice bunt.

The Foresters were not done in the inning, as junior first baseman Austin Pritchard gave Huntington a 4–3 advantage three batters later by belting a monstrous home run far past the right field wall.

The contest settled back down in the sixth, but the Thunderbirds opened it right back up in the seventh inning with a trio of runs to regain the lead at 6–4 thanks to a pair of RBI knocks.

Freshman shortstop Satchell Wilson got a run back for the Foresters in the bottom of the seventh, walking with the bases loaded to bring in senior center fielder Donovan Clark to cut the Huntington deficit to 6–5.

British Columbia got the run back in the top of the ninth with a sacrifice fly to re-establish a two-run lead at 7–5, which would hold up as the game’s final score after a one-two-three bottom of the ninth for the Foresters.

Junior pitcher Mason Shinabery got the start on the mound for Huntington, tossing six and one-third innings while allowing six hits and five earned runs. Shinabery struck out four Thunderbirds in his no-decision outing.

Junior pitcher Caleb Landrum came on in relief to throw two innings. Landrum gave up three hits and two earned runs while striking out two British Columbia batters to take the loss for the Foresters.

Pritchard rounded out the pitching efforts by throwing the final two-thirds of the ninth inning, striking out on batter in the process.

Though Huntington scored five runs, their offense mustered just six hits in the contest. But, due to the tournament being a double-elimination format, the Foresters remained alive despite their loss to the Thunderbirds.

After Middle Georgia State lost to third-seeded RV Rio Grande on Monday, Huntington would need a win against the bracket hosts to extend their season.

Although no runs were plated in the first inning, the Knights started their offensive conquest in the second inning and continued it through the fourth, bringing in two runs in each of the three frames for a 6–0 advantage after four innings.

The Foresters finally got on the manually operated scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth when Roser hit a sacrifice fly to score McCutcheon to cut the gap to 6–1.

Despite quieting the Middle Georgia State offense in innings five, six and seven, the Knights tacked on two more runs in the top of the eighth to effectively put the game out of reach at 8–1.

An RBI sacrifice fly by senior designated hitter Andrew Natividad scored McCutcheon for the second time of the day, chopping the Huntington deficit to 8–2.

However, Middle Georgia State unloaded for three more runs to put the exclamation point on an eventual 11–2 decision to keep their season alive and send the Foresters packing following a one-two-three bottom of the ninth.

Junior pitcher Alex McCutcheon took the loss on the mound for Huntington, throwing six innings while giving up six hits and six runs in the start, though one was unearned. The Huntington native struck out five Knights.

Senior pitcher DJ Moore rounded out his Forester career by coming on to toss two innings in relief, giving up four hits and two earned runs while striking out one Middle Georgia State batter.

Freshman pitcher Brent Turner closed out the 2019 pitching performances with one inning of work, allowing two hits and three runs, though one was unearned. Turner also struck out one Knight in his outing.

The National Tournament losses finished Huntington’s 2019 season record at 26–16. The Foresters are expected to start their voyage back to Huntington on Wednesday morning.