Raiders top Clinton 4-3 in thriller

Dylan Hardison pitching against Clinton. He struck out 10 in the Raider win.

Jonathan Wright during the game against Midway. Wright was spectacular, striking out 10 in the complete game.

Midway was ready. They were fired up to face off against the only conference team that had beaten them this year, their cross-county rivals, the Clinton Dark Horses. But Clinton was ready too. This game proved to be an instant classic.

With first place on the line in the conference, Junior Jonathan Wright of Clinton and Midway Junior Dylan Hardison each pitched great games, striking out 10 each. Wright pitched the complete 7 innings and Hardison pitched 6.

The pitcher’s duel was one in which runs were tough to come by, and everyone had to be scratched out in any way possible. Clinton drew first blood when Tyler Johnson scored on a sac fly to right field in the top of the second inning. They would tack on two more in the fourth when an E3 extended the inning and scored a run, followed by a wild pitch to score another. The ‘Horses took that 3-0 lead into the fifth inning.

Hitting is contagious. Midway’s Hardison helped his own cause to lead off the bottom of the fifth, slicing a single into left. Hardison then stole second, and advanced to third on an infield single by Drake Strickland. With Jake Clark up to bat, the Raiders tried the safety squeeze, but were unsuccessful, as Hardison was out at the plate. The next batter, Matthew Barefoot, singled into right field to score Strickland and finally get the Raiders on the board. After a Wesley Johnson walk, Kyle Hawley hit a deep fly ball to center-field, good enough for a sac fly to cut the lead to 3-2. Tyler Pope then drove in Matt Barefoot on an infield hit to tie the game. Wright would walk the next batter, Trey Wood, and strike out the following batter to strand the bases loaded and keep the score tied at 3-all.

Clinton loaded the bases in the top of the sixth. With the bases loaded and two outs, a chopper was knocked to Strickland at shortstop. Strickland just beat the runner to second for the force out to get out of the jam. This would spell the end of the night for Hardison on the mound, who went allowed no earned runs on 7 hits and 2 walks.

Matt Barefoot pitched an inning of relief for Midway, sitting down the Horses in order. Two of the three outs in the inning were made on great plays from Midway right-fielder Cameron Godwin. Something that won’t be in the stat book, but surely affected the outcome of the game.

After a scoreless next couple of half innings, the Raiders entered the bottom of the seventh with 2-3-4 batters due up. Kyle Hawley and Tyler Pope had back-to-back one-out hits to reach safely, followed by a Trey Wood walk. With an 0-2 count, Midway’s head coach told the Raider Sophomore first baseman, Dustin Holland, to just put the ball in play and make something happen. Well, he did. Holland hit a ground ball to second base. The throw to the plate was a bit high, allowing Hawley to slide in and win the game for the Raiders.

“It was a good win for us. We threw it around some early and let them get some runs, but they have a really good team,” said Midway’s head coach, Jason Fussell. “I liked the way our guys battled back and we had some guys really step up and make some big plays for us. Cameron really made some big-time plays out there in right field for us and I thought Matt came in without getting warmed up and threw a good inning. It was nice to have some veterans up to bat late for us, and it was great that Dustin was able to put that last pitch in play.”

Midway is now in the driver’s seat for the conference race, but Coach Fussell knows that there’s still work to be done. “We need to take care of business these next three. This one was big for us, but we have to keep playing good baseball,” he finished.

Clinton falls to 10-3 overall and 8-2 in the conference. Midway is now 15-2 and 10-1 in conference play. Clinton is back in action at Union on Friday. Midway hosts Wallace on Friday.