For two innings Thursday, June 18, Halfway High School baseball held three-time defending district champion Marion C. Early scoreless.
Then, the dam broke loose.
The two teams faced off in a doubleheader in Morrisville, with MCE claiming both matches 7-0 and 10-2.
It was in the second of those games that Halfway coach Eric Ingram said his team’s moxie showed early.
On the mound, pitcher Blake Phillips kept MCE close, fighting with his team out of a bases-loaded jam to keep his opponents scoreless early on.
“Our kid on the hill throws it well,” Ingram said of Phillips. “He changes speeds well. He hits those spots. He got in one jam in the second where they loaded the bases and we got out of it. We didn’t make some plays to let them get the bases loaded, and then we made some plays to back (Phillips) up.”
The stalemate lasted until the third inning, when MCE’s Triston Bruegman got the best of a pitch batting in a runner as he darted to second base.
“We struggled the first time through the lineup, and we made some adjustments and had better at bats,” first-year MCE coach Jason Grose said.
The Panthers went on to score nine more runs before the game ended, including four on a homerun from John Presley.
Grose said he was proud. His team has struggled at times this summer, he said.
“We’ve been talking about and working on offense a lot,” he said. “It was a lot better today than it was earlier in the week. Earlier this week, we did not hit the ball well, and we had a bad night at the plate. We came back and worked on our hitting and spent some time at the plate to fix our mental approach, and I hope it is starting to show.”
Grose cycled in three pitchers during the second game.
“I’ve been doing that all summer,” he said. “This is my first year here, so I’m trying to see as many arms as possible. It’s also that you're playing multiple games a week, and most of these guys play travel ball, so I don’t want to overuse them.”
Grose’s pitchers hung tough even as Halfway mounted a comeback attempt. Down by 4 runs, the Cardinals’ Sloan Gallivan hammered a pitch over the back fence, scoring himself and another runner to bring his team back into contention.
It was a bright moment on a night when the team struggled to find clutch hits, Ingram said.
Halfway had at least two runners on base each inning of the first game, only to see them stranded each time, he said.
“We also had baserunning mistakes,” he said. “But I told the guys, ‘You come up with a clutch hit once or twice, and if we don’t have the errors in the second inning, that’s a ball game.’ The scores are deceiving, because the games were a lot closer than the scores say. You had to be here to see that. I like we’re making progress. That’s what summer’s for.”