South Warren wins slugfest over Franklin-Simpson
FRANKLIN – From the early stages of Monday’s game, it looked as if South Warren would win by a lopsided amount over defending Region 4 champion Franklin-Simpson.
The Spartans still came out on top with a tough 9-8 victory at Greg Shelton Field, but it had to fight back and forth with a Wildcats team that climbed out of a hole and turned the contest into an old fashioned high school baseball slugfest.
“It’s a good test for us,” South Warren coach Chris Gage said. “We jumped out to a lead, and like I told our team, ‘you’ve gotta be able to absorb some of those haymakers that they threw at us and bounce back,’ and we did. For our team to keep battling back is good because you know they’re gonna battle back.”
South Warren (21-9, 13-4 Region 4) built a 4-1 lead midway through the second inning and later pushed its advantage to 6-2 in third to put itself in a comfortable spot. The Spartans weren’t comfortable for long, as Franklin-Simpson scored six of the final nine runs to give the visitors an unexpected scare.
In a game that featured 25 combined hits, the Wildcats (21-9, 7-5) earned 14 of them. As South Warren finished with 11, it took advantage of three Franklin-Simpson errors to help itself hold on for an 11th straight win – and its 14th in the last 15 games.
“Just our offense and our pitching,” Spartans’ junior Sam Gage said of what’s clicking for South right now. “It’s starting to shoot a lot better. It’s all coming together.”
Mason Day led the way for the Spartans with a 2-for-3 day at the plate to go along with a pair of RBI, while Jacob Lacey went 2-for-4 with an RBI as every South Warren batter finished with at least one hit.
Zack Beckner started on the mound and allowed six runs with eight hits and four walks in 4.1 innings. After Noah Cranor retired Beckner, Clay Nohel quickly replaced him and threw three strikeouts and only allowed a run to earn the win.
“Pitchers are sticking with the game plan for the most part, not giving up too many baserunners,” Chris Gage said. “Their job is to make the other team put the ball in play and hopefully we make the plays behind them. Just consistently don’t give the other team anything.”
While Ben Bayles carried Franklin-Simpson with a 3-for-4, RBI showing, Donavan Alderson tossed five strikeouts with nine hits and nine runs in six complete innings.
Franklin-Simpson struck first, taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on Jordan Jones’ sacrifice fly out. After Clay Spears reached on a walk and Quentin Kitchens doubled, Jones perfectly sent a flyball into centerfield to score Spears from third and put the Wildcats up early.
“It was a great hitting matchup tonight,” Franklin-Simpson coach Kyle Gammons said. “It was a good high school ball game. We had some things go our way and had some hits to fall. I was proud of our guys for competing.”
Right back came South Warren – and in a big way.
Behind five hits – which included a single, double, triple and homerun – the Spartans jumped all over Franklin with a four-run frame. Tyler Martin led off with a triple, and Drew Gregory quickly followed up with a double to score his predecessor and even the score at 1-1.
An RBI single from Day – and Trent Rice’s two-run home run over the right field wall – soon had South Warren leading 4-1 midway through the second.
“We can battle back, and we can play against anyone basically,” Sam Gage said. “They’re a really good team and they always give us a good game. We’ve been able to respond all year and have had confidence.”
Alex Gilbert laid down an RBI single in the bottom half of the set to make it 4-2, but the Spartans continued to stay hot at the plate.
With Hunter Evans and Martin both on after a couple of Franklin-Simpson miscues, Lacey singled into center to plate Evans. Just after that, Day came up with his second single of the afternoon to send Lacey home and push South’s advantage to 6-2.
Rylan Thomas, who was pinch hitting for Zach Witt, singled in the fourth to bring Franklin-Simpson to within 6-3 – and that sparked an exhilarating comeback for the Wildcats.
Once trailing by three runs, Franklin used three hits and a handful of Spartan mistakes to plate four runs and jump in front at 7-6 in the bottom of the fifth. With the bases loaded and one out, Bayles singled to drive in a run while Cade Harvey was hit by a pitch to walk in another and make it 6-5.
“Franklin went to the state tournament last year and played a tough schedule this year, and I think they’re ranked ninth in the state,” said Chris Gage. “A good team is going to (battle back). They’re not gonna roll over.”
South Warren replaced Beckner with Cranor – and he was soon switched with Nohel as Franklin-Simpson plated another pair of runs and suddenly had a 7-6 lead entering the sixth.
The Spartans responded – and did so in a significant way – in the top of the sixth.
It only recorded one hit, but the Wildcats’ defense committed multiple mistakes to allow South Warren to put together a three-run inning. Behind an error, passed ball and RBI single from Gage, the Spartans led 9-7.
Jones’ second RBI of the day – this one a single to center – cut the Wildcats’ deficit to 9-8 after six, but South Warren was able to hold on from there and earn a marquee victory.
“It was a great game,” Gammons said. “I was proud of my guys for fighting. We could’ve laid down when it was 6-2, but our guys kept fighting. We battled and chipped away and chipped away. Our guys just have to keep coming out and competing.”