Headland tests Tigers, Luverne moves on
Although it’s only the first round of the playoffs, the Luverne Tigers got pushed to the limit by Headland, needing every at-bat to move on to the second round.
“All three games were back and forth,” said head coach Andre Parks.
The Tigers were already facing a difficult situation since two of their top pitchers were unable to take to the mound.
Monterio May was suffering from a strained UCL, and Corey Hale had a bout with tendonitis.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that we didn’t have our number one or number two pitcher, and we were still able to go out and beat a quality team,” Parks said. “That was big for us.”
In the first game of the best-of-three series, Luverne pulled out a 12-9 win, although it wasn’t until the final inning that the Tigers went ahead.
The Tigers left the bases loaded in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, which set the stage for an amazing comeback.
Luverne trailed 9-4 heading into the seventh inning, and Hunner Moody led off with a double.
With the bases loaded, Nick McManigle had a sacrifice fly to make it 9-5, and then Ryan Waters drew a walk with two outs to again load the bases for Monterio May.
Down to their last out, May came through with a grand slam to tie the game.
“That really just gave us new life,” Parks said. “That grand slam was one of the most clutch hits I’ve seen since I’ve been playing baseball.”
The Tigers went on to win 12-9 in eight innings.
“Adam Foster was great for us on the mound,” Parks said. “He battled the entire game and played hard.”
Foster ended the day with a complete game, giving up 13 hits and walking two.
At the plate, May, Moody and Zane Sexton each had two hits, and Sexton had a solo home run.
Despite the furious rally, the Tigers lost the second game of the doubleheader 10-5.
“There was so much time in between games that I felt like we lost our focus,” Parks said.
That set up a winner-take-all game on Saturday, and it was every bit as nail-biting as the first game of the series.
“That was definitely another tough game,” Parks said. “It was also another game where our offense stepped up for us. Sometimes our offense has struggled this year, but with pitching not at full strength, they really picked it up on the offensive end to win it.”
Luverne took the early lead with an RBI from Hale in the second inning, but Headland also put four on the board in that frame.
In the third inning, Luverne’s Evan Richardson took full advantage of a situation he had let slip away in the first game of the series.
Richardson had struck out twice with the bases loaded the night before, but that certainly wasn’t the case this time around, and he smacked a grand slam to put the Tigers ahead 6-4.
“Evan really came through and redeemed himself,” Parks said.
In the bottom of the third, Headland again tied the game, but Luverne went ahead 8-6 in the fifth inning.
With runners on second and third, Adam Sport lay down a sacrifice bunt to score a run to make it 9-6.
“We work on that a lot, and he came in cold and got it down,” Parks said. “After that, Hunner Moody just held them off.”
Moody pitched a complete game, giving up nine hits, two walks and striking out two.
Foster, May, Hale and Ryan Waters combined for nine hits and four RBI.
The Tigers must now prepare to face a surprising opponent: Dale County.
The Warriors swept Straughn at Straughn.
“They are a much-improved team over last year,” Parks said.
The Tigers put Dale County out in the first round of the playoffs last season.
“They’re a well-coached bunch, and they’ll be one of the grittiest teams we’ll play,” he said.
While Dale County hasn’t been ranked this year, the two teams share nearly identical records: the Warriors are 21-9, while Luverne is 20-10.
The first game is set for 5 p.m. on Friday in Midland City with the second game to follow at 7 p.m.