A large lead had been erased and the Pioneers were in danger of losing a game in the final inning. It’s a story the Warren County baseball team has heard too many times over the past two seasons, but this time, the Pioneers changed the ending.
Connor Dixon pitched out of a jam in the top of the seventh and Nick Grandey ignited a rally in the bottom half as Warren County defeated the Grundy County Yellow Jackets 6-5 at Patrick Ramsey Field Friday night.
The Pioneers (4-5) are no strangers to late-game theatrics, although they’ve found themselves on the wrong end of the equation most of the time.
On Friday however, Warren County did just enough to hold off the Yellow Jackets rally and pick up its fourth win in five games.
Grundy County rallied to tie the game at five in the seventh inning after trailing by as many as four early. The Yellow Jackets started the inning with back-to-back doubles off of Dixon, who had come in to relieve starter David Lee at the end of the sixth.
The second double scored the tying run and put the leading run in scoring position. It was followed by an error, allowing the runner to advance within 90 feet of giving Grundy County the lead.
Dixon settled down though, striking out the next two batters. He got a bit of help from his catcher to get out of the jam and keep the game tied.
Catcher Garrison Holmes saw the Yellow Jackets runner wandering too far off third base after a pitch from Dixon. He threw to third, picking off the runner and giving the Pioneers a momentum-swinging third out.
Nick Grandey kept the momentum going when he led off the bottom of the seventh with a single. Senior Christian Gonzalez followed with a sacrifice bunt to move Grandey into scoring position.
The Yellow Jackets decided to intentionally walk Dylan Barnes to keep a double-play opportunity intact. Caleb Northcutt gave Grundy County exactly what they wanted when he hit a ground ball to the shortstop.
Grandey sprinted toward third and the Yellow Jackets shortstop decided to take it himself to second and attempt a throw to first. The out at second was made, but his throw sailed wide of first base.
The errant throw was just the opportunity Grandey needed, as coach Joey Haston waved his junior second baseman around third and toward home. Grandey scored with ease, and the Pioneers stormed the field in celebration.
Coach Haston was thrilled with the victory, especially seeing his team showed a resolve which was largely missing last season.
“Connor blew the save, but came back and stopped the bleeding,” said Haston. “Then Nick leads off the seventh with a single and we go on to win. Guys kept stepping up in big situations.
“That’s the type of game we would have lost last season.”
The Pioneers looked to be in cruise control after building an early lead. Warren County put a four-spot up in the second inning, with Ben Wilson starting the rally with a double. Collin Hutchins drew a bases-loaded walk and Grandey added a two-run single as Warren County jumped out to 4-0 lead after two.
Lee, who got his second start of the season, didn’t allow a hit until the third inning when Grundy County plated two runs. Coach Haston’s sophomore pitcher would go on to allow four runs on four hits while striking out six. It was another sterling performance from Lee, who was just a few outs away from moving his record to 2-0.
After Grundy County brought the score to 4-2 after three innings, Gonzalez gave the Pioneers some breathing room when he drove in Hutchins with a RBI single in the fourth.
It was part of a hectic inning for the Pioneers, who saw their starting center fielder ejected. Logan Walker reached base to begin the inning via a Grundy County error and found himself with a chance to score moments later.
As Walker broke to the plate to score on a wild throw, he ran into the Yellow Jackets catcher. The home-plate umpire ruled Walker lowered his shoulder in the encounter, which earned an automatic ejection. Alex Hillis took over for Walker in the outfield for the final three innings.
Grundy County bounced back with two runs in the fourth, but Holmes was there again to end a rally. After the Yellow Jackets drew within one in the top of the fourth and were threatening for more, Holmes ended the inning by throwing out a runner trying to steal second. Holmes finished the game with a pickoff and two runners caught stealing.
The win was a team effort that has been become typical of the Pioneers during their recent surge toward .500. Warren County will look to even its record tomorrow night when the team travels to Lincoln County.
First pitch for tomorrow night’s road game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.