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Galax rally falls one run short

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The Maroon Tide made a living with late heroics last year and 2014 nearly started the same way.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

MARION –– Galax made it a habit last year of staging remarkable – if not downright miraculous – late-inning comebacks. It only took one game into the 2014 season to see that once again the Maroon Tide considers no deficit insurmountable.

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The downside to all that late-game noise was that those comebacks were necessary to begin with, as was the case Wednesday. Marion took a 6-0 lead after two innings and sweated out a five-run Galax rally in the seventh before the Scarlet Hurricanes held on for a 6-5 nondistrict win.

“I thought we were going to have a game where we didn’t hit the ball at all, but we battled,” Galax coach Bobby Parnell said. “That’s what we need. I was proud of them.”

If Marion head coach Eric Pennington wondered how far starting pitcher Sam Wagner could go this early in the season, he got his answer: six innings. Wagner was nearly unhittable through the first six frames, allowing one single and retiring 13 of 14 batters in one stretch until giving up a leadoff double to Caleb Spurlin to start the seventh.

And it snowballed from there. Courtesy runner Dustin Matthews scored on Alex Zipprich’s base hit, and following a line-out to center, Jacob Stuart walked and Chase Garvey reached on a bad-hop single, loading the bases with the top of the order coming up. Alex Larrowe’s wind-blown fly ball drifted just out of reach of Marion centerfielder Colin Gullion for an RBI single.

Stew Merdian beat out a swinging-bunt single to plate Stewart and close the gap to 6-3, ending Wagner’s day after 6 1/3 innings. Bryant Cox greeted Marion reliever Nick Stiefel by ripping Steifel’s first pitch into center for a two-run single, trimming the gap to a single run, but Chandler Quesenberry’s line drive was flagged down by a charging Gullion, who doubled up Merdian at second for a game-ending double play.

Six of Galax’s eight hits came in the Tide’s final turn at bat as Wagner was on the money from the onset. Beginning with a ground ball out to end the top half of the second, the Marion right-hander allowed just a fifth-inning walk until his troubles in the seventh.

“He was good. I think he still had a little left in him out there,” said Parnell. “We finally got to him, it just took us a while.”

Marion wasted no time jumping out in front, doing all its scoring in the first two innings. The Hurricanes got two runs on three hits in the first inning and tacked on four in the second.

Freshman reliever Jacob Stuart took the mound with two out in the second, and though he struggled to get out of that inning, giving up an RBI double, a walk and uncorking three wild pitches, he settled in and threw well the remainder of his first varsity appearance. Stuart was charged with no runs as he worked 4 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and striking out two.

“We played defense and we pitched pretty well,” Parnell said. “Had a freshman come in today and throw well. He had a little trouble finding the zone but when he did find it, he did well and hit his spots. We just need to get some runs in behind him.”

Cox had two hits and two RBIs for Galax, while the top third of the Marion lineup – Gullion, Eric Garrison and Stiefel – combined for six hits and four RBIs.