Celts win thriller to open conference play

McNary’s Ty Covalt scores the first run of the game in the Celtics 7-6 come-from-behind win over Sprague (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

It nearly took 48 hours to complete, but at the end of the day, the McNary baseball team got the win over Sprague in their Mountain Valley Conference opener.

The contest started on Tuesday, April 9. However, with the game tied 6-6 and heading to extra innings, the umpiring crew decided to call the game due to darkness — there was also a 45-minute rain delay.

The two teams resumed play on Thursday, April 11. Sprague got an unearned run in the top of the eighth to take a 7-6 lead, but McNary responded with two runs in the bottom half of the frame on a single from Alex Tavera to walk-off with an 8-7 victory. 

“I was kind of nervous at first,” Tavera said about his at-bat. “But I just had to take some deep breaths and help my team out as much as I could.”

Sprague went on top 1-0 in the top of the second after taking advantage of an error by McNary third baseman Rennick Jeffries. But the Celtics were able to respond when they came to bat.

Ty Covalt started out the inning by legging out an infield single. The senior catcher advanced to third after a pair of groundouts, then came in to score on an RBI-single to left field by Jamison Martin. 

The Olympians, however, regained the lead in the top of the third on another defensive miscue, which was a theme for both teams throughout the entire game — both teams combined for nine errors.

After retiring the first two batters of the inning, McNary pitcher David Allen surrendered a bloop single to Michael Soper. The senior right-hander tried to pick Soper off first moments later, but threw the ball away as Soper got into scoring position by advancing to second. 

The error proved to be costly as Brock McMullen singled into left field, scoring Soper.

Allen redeemed himself at the plate in the bottom of the fourth with a bloop single to right field that scored Covalt from second, tying the game 2-2.

But in the top of the fifth. Sprague appeared to have broken the game open. 

The Olympians scored three runs on four hits in the inning as Allen was replaced by Robert Benson on the hill. 

But Benson retired both batters he faced to stop the bleeding, which ended up being very key for the Celtics later in the game. 

“I thought Robert was huge,” McNary head coach Larry Keeker said. “He came into a tough spot and got us out of the inning. He did a good job of damage control because it could have been a lot worse.” 

Soper hit an RBI-double to the wall in right field off McNary pitcher Devon Bedoya — who entered in for Benson on the mound in the top of the sixth — extending Sprague’s lead to 6-2. 

A sacrifice fly from Martin in the bottom of the sixth cut Sprague’s lead to 6-3. McNary faced that same deficit going into seventh, but the Celtics refused to say die — they also got some help thanks to a trio of defensive mistakes by Sprague. 

Sprague pitcher Cole Herschbach threw six solid innings for the Olympians. He started the top of the seventh, but was taken off the hill after Ian Martin reached on an error by Sprague third baseman Will Deloretto. 

Getting Herschbach off the hill was crucial to the McNary comeback

Another error from Deloretto, along with walks issued to Benson and Jacob Jackson, allowed Ian Martin to score and gave McNary a bases loaded situation with nobody out.

The McNary threat nearly died there as Covalt flew out to shallow right field and Allen went down looking for the first two outs of the inning, leaving it up to Jamison Martin to try and extend the game.

“I was thinking that they were going to pitch me middle-away in that situation, so I just wanted to make some contact and get the ball in-play because I knew it would be a tough play,” Jamison Martin said. 

With the game on the line, Martin hit a slow roller between third base and shortstop. Deloretto hustled quickly to his left to cut the ball off and hurried his throw to first.

But the throw was in the dirt and the Sprague first baseman couldn’t handle it as Deloretto committed his third error of the frame. 

Benson scored easily from third and Tavera, who was on second and running on the crack of the bat, never broke stride as he scored on a ball that never left the infield. Despite not having a hit in the inning, McNary had pushed three runs across and tied the game at 6-6. 

“We felt really good about being competitive at the plate down the stretch,” Keeker said. “We knew their bullpen guys were having some command issues and we wanted to force them to throw strikes. I knew that if we had a chance to create some traffic, then we were going to have a chance.”

“I was proud of the fact that we executed our offensive plan in the seventh.”

Bedoya had a chance to end the game on the next at-bat, but struck out. 

It was 7:45 p.m. by the time the seventh inning had finished. The home plate umpire met with both coaches and decided to play the remainder of the game on the following day (Wednesday, April 10). But due to poor weather, the game was moved to Thursday.

“We just approached it like we were going to play a normal baseball game today and and everything that typically happens on a game day was going to happen,” Keeker said. 

Jeffries started for the Celtics on the mound when the game continued in the top of the eighth. 

Sprague loaded up the bases with one out in the frame when Brett Hassoun hit a slow roller just to the left of the mound. Jeffries gathered and threw to home to get the force out, but Covalt was unable to corral the throw and was charged with an error, putting Sprague on top 7-6.

But Jeffries gathered himself and retired the next two hitters, leaving three Olympians stranded on-base. 

Once again in a come-from-behind situation, the Celtics rose to the challenge.

After Nigel Harris was fanned for the first out, Ian Martin and Benson drew free passes to put the Celtics in business, bringing up Tavera.

With a 1-1 count, Tavera hit a hard ground ball that got between the third baseman and shortstop for a base hit. 

“My natural intent was to drag bunt one down the third base line. But the pitcher wasn’t throwing a lot of strikes, so the first pitch I saw down the middle I tried to hit to left field,” Tavera said.

Before the season started, Keeker commented that this team had a lot of speed and would look to be more aggressive on the bases.

That aggression was seen first hand on the final play. 

Ian Martin scored easily on the play from second. Benson, however, decided to push the envelope and try to go from first to third to put the winning run 90 feet away with one out. 

The Sprague left fielder appeared to be unprepared for Benson trying to advance another base and rushed his throw to third. 

It would have been a bang-bang play had the throw been on target, but the one-hopper got by Deloretto at third and came to a rest at the fence by the McNary dugout. Benson scored on the error, sending the Celtics to victory. 

“That was all Benson. When he’s coming from first base on a ball hit to left field, that decision is his because the play is in front of him,” Keeker said. “Generally speaking, Robert is a pretty aggressive baserunner, so he felt like he had a chance to get there and he did.”

“Getting 90 feet away with one out is a big advantage because it gives you a lot of options.”

McNary returns to the diamond on Saturday where they’ll play host to Mountain View.