The Independence Eagles baseball team (23-11) cruised to victory with timely hitting and effective pitching to defend home field against the McGavock Raiders (15-10) on Monday afternoon, 6-1, in the Region 6-AAA semifinal.
“This is a good win for us,” said Independence left fielder Creed McClellan. “This is momentum for our games to come.”
“It has been a thing we have being working toward since freshman year,” said Independence closer Jacob Almon. “We went (to region) my sophomore year, and we are just looking to get back and make it to state.”
“It means a lot to play two more days,” said Independence head coach Mike McLaury.
In the top of the first inning, the Raiders took an early lead on an RBI single from catcher Cedric Poellenitz, 1-0.
The Eagles answered back in the bottom of the first with an RBI double from designated hitter Drew Blalock and an RBI single from Grant Morgan to go ahead 2-1.
Independence starter Ben Cleaver got out of a jam with runners on second and third, recording two strikeouts to keep the score at 2-1 in the top of the second.
McGavock starter JD Garrett drew two pop outs and one fly out to stay at 2-1 in the bottom of the second.
After a hit by pitch on the first batter of the inning, Cleaver battled back, recording two strikeouts and a groundout to keep the advantage at 2-1 in the top of the third.
The Eagles added to their run total in the bottom of the third with a 2-run double by left fielder Creed McClellan to stretch their margin to 4-1.
“There were no outs, so I was trying to put the ball in play,” said McClellan.
“He has been coming in clutch for us all year,” said Almon. “Even when we are behind, he will get a big hit and get us right back into the game. It is just something Creed is very good at.”
Cleaver continued to shine in the top of the fourth, recording two strikeouts. Catcher Grant Morgan picked off a runner at second to keep the Eagles in front, 4-1.
Garrett was able to shut down the Eagles offense in the bottom of the fourth, drawing two fly outs and a pop out as the score stayed 4-1.
Cleaver and reliever Will Tobin combined to strike out the side in the top of the fifth to keep the lead 4-1.
Independence could not capitalize on a leadoff double by Drew Blalock in the bottom of the fifth, as Garrett recorded a strikeout and two fly outs to hold the Eagles at 4-1.
Tobin struck out the side in order in the top of the sixth to preserve the Independence lead, 4-1.
The Eagles tacked on two runs in the bottom of the sixth, collecting an RBI triple from right fielder Aiden Justice and a run-scoring wild pitch to extend the Independence lead, 6-1.
Jacob Almon continued the pitching excellence in the game, striking out the side in the top of the seventh as the Eagles advanced to the region final 6-1.
“They were able to keep the momentum going,” said McClellan. “We all trusted them to get the job done.”
“We were just able to keep throwing strikes and pound the zone,” said Almon. “We did not try to work around hitters and walk people. When you walk people, that is when you get in trouble.”
“Ben made some good pitches,” said Coach McLaury. “We wanted to get Will in there a little bit, since he has not thrown in a little while. Almon has been in his role (closer) all year, and he deserved the ball that last inning.”
Independence will host Ravenwood on Wednesday for the Region 6-AAA title.
“We need to play our game and keep errors to a minimum,” said McClellan. “We need to keep our bats going.”
“I am just hoping we can build on that success and keep getting better,” said Almon.
“They (Ravenwood) are familiar with us too,” said Coach McLaury. “Hopefully we can swing the bats a little bit better and score some more runs.”