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EMORY –– Galax did what it had to do to move on to the next round. It very nearly made it so that move was a short one.
The Maroon Tide dropped a 5-4 decision to Fort Chiswell in the Conference 46 baseball tournament finals Wednesday at Patrick Henry High School and will hit the road for its Region 1A West first-round game, but at least the season is still in motion. Galax halted George Wythe’s season 6-2 in Tuesday’s semifinals and burned its top two pitchers in the process, then gave the Pioneers a handful Wednesday before settling for the conference’s runner-up trophy.
The Maroon Tide (12-10) led Fort Chiswell on three separate occasions but couldn’t answer a late Pioneer run in its final at-bat. Fort took the final lead in the bottom of the sixth when Chase Rathbone drew a leadoff walk, stole second and scored on Jarrett McGuire’s base hit up the middle.
Galax made one last threat in the top of the seventh. Jacob Stuart and Bryant Cox led off with a back-to-back singles and moved up on Alex Zipprich’s sacrifice bunt, putting two runners in scoring position with just one out. Stew Merdian walked to load the bases but Fort Chiswell reliever Bryson Booher recorded consecutive strikeouts to leave the three runners stranded.
The Maroon Tide took an early 1-0 lead when Daniel Larrowe led off the game with a double and later scored on an error on a first-and-third steal.
Fort Chiswell squared the game with a run-producing ground-out in its first turn at bat, but Galax took a 3-1 lead in the top of the second on a two-run Larrowe double.
For Chiswell again evened things out, this time with two runs in the third on a Levi Mooney sacrifice fly and an RBI double from Brett Mabry for a 3-3 game entering the fourth.
Merdian’s two-out base hit in the top of the fifth gave the Maroon Tide its final lead of the night, 4-3, but a single and an outfield error brought in the tying run for the Pioneers in the home half of the fifth.
With two pitchers having left the team earlier in the season and its top two arms out of action following the previous day’s semifinals, the task was left up to Caleb Pack and Cox to get the job done on the mound. Each came through, giving up four hits in three innings of work. Cox entered the game having thrown seven innings all season, none since a one-inning outing on May 13, but allowed one earned run in three innings, striking out one and walking one.
Pack worked the first three innings and gave up two earned runs on four hits with two Ks and two walks.
Booher picked up the win in relief for the Pioneers and allowed one unearned run on five hits over the final 5.1 innings, striking out four and walking three.
Larrowe and Pack had two hits each for Galax while Patrick Biedleman and Mabry collected two each for the Pioneers.
Galax...................120 010 0––4 8 1
Fort Chiswell......102 011 x––5 8 2
Pack, Cox (4) and Quesenberry. Turner, Booher (2) and Rathbone. W – Booher. L – Cox. 2B – Larrowe 2, Pack, Dalton, Mabry.
Galax 6, George Wythe 2: Stuart and Merdian teamed up to limit the Maroons to a pair of unearned runs on four hits with 13 strikeouts as the Maroon Tide clinched a spot in the regionals.
An impressive start by Stuart got the Maroon Tide rolling and Merdian got the final six outs on the mound to slam the door on George Wythe’s season and give Galax a regional berth.
Stuart struck out 10 in his six-plus innings of work and departed with a 4-2 lead.
“He threw well – can’t be more proud of him,” said Galax coach Bobby Parnell.
A fired-up Merdian then added three more strikeouts – including one to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth – and Galax clinched the win when Cox at first base snagged a smoking liner moments after he had dropped a pop-up in foul territory.
“He was pretty pumped up,” Parnell said about Merdian. “We actually had told him he was going to start today and he was kind of irritated when we didn’t put him in at first. He came in there and pumped strikes when we needed him.”
Cox had a pair of doubles and Zipprich added three singles and a run-scoring ground-out for Galax.
Coty Childers had a double and Jacob Collins had an RBI single for George Wythe, but the Maroons were hurt by three errors and gave up runs on a wild pitch and a throwing miscue in the fourth and sixth innings, respectively, after tying the game at 2 in the bottom of the third.
Galax tacked on two insurance runs in the top of the seventh on a Caleb Spurlin RBI single and a squeeze bunt by Pack.
Galax.....................200 101 2––6 9 3
George Wythe......002 000 0––2 4 2
Stuart, Merdian (6) and Quesenberry. Combs, Collins (5) and Deters. W – Stuart. L – Combs. Sv – Merdian. 2B – Cox 2.
Some information provided by the Bristol Herald-Courier.