Travis Northern struck out nine in a complete-game performance in leading Irwin-Easley Post #118 to a 9-5 victory over the Carthage Merchants on July 6. Then in the second game, Zach Campbell hit a pair of home runs as his team completed an improbable comeback to win 11-9.
Playing in Carthage's venerable Carl Lewton Stadium, an historic old park built in 1931 as a WPA project, Jeremy Marple's team had a lot to prove. Year in and year out, the Merchants are considered one of the powerhouses of American Legion District 15, and the road to a district championship invariably must pass through Carthage.
This doubleheader was most significant, because of its influence on the seeding for the district tournament. A convincing sweep by either team could certainly sway the sentiment of the district coaches.
The Merchants sent their pitching ace Tadd Wagner out for the seven-inning game to start the night. Wagner is a polished hurler with excellent command of his pitching arsenal.
"If we can make contact with his fastball, we'll be alright," said Marple during pregame warm-ups.
Post #118 countered with Travis Northern, the emotional leader of its pitching staff.
Wagner was in trouble immediately, hitting Trevor Tanner with a pitch and giving up a bunt single to Ricky Vanderpool. Josh Hartin beat out an infield hit, and Post #118 had the bases loaded with only one out. But the potential big inning fizzled like cheap fireworks when Jon Riley lined into a double play to end the inning.
The pitching duel was on.
The Cassville team failed to score in the first four innings as Wagner hit his stride after the opening inning. Northern struck out four in two innings, before hitting a bump in the bottom of the third.
Dalton Cossy hit a leadoff single and scored on Seth Beckner's triple. Carthage would score twice with two outs to up the score to 3-0. Then the Merchants tacked on another run in the fourth on a passed ball and owned a 4-0 lead going into the fifth inning.
With Wagner sailing along, the Carthage crowd sensed a victory was at hand.
The Post #118 hitters took a more aggressive role in the fifth. For four innings, Wagner had set up his outside corner slider with an intimidating array of brushback pitches. Lefty John Cavness sliced a one-out single to right field, and then both Colton Beck and Tanner crowded the plate and took Wagner's punishment to load the bases.
Vanderpool's sharp groundball had double play written across the seams, but the Carthage shortstop was late in reacting. The ball skipped under his glove and both Cavness and Beck scored to halve the lead to 4-2.
Campbell poked an RBI single to the opposite field for a 4-3 score, and then Hartin drove in two more runs with a crushing double. With Carthage reeling on the ropes, Riley's double scored Hartin, and Post #118 held a 6-4 lead.
The Merchants made it a one-run game in the sixth inning when Sam Carlton doubled and scored on Dalton Cossey's triple off the left field wall. Extra base hits are the norm in Carl Lewton Stadium, with its 444-foot fence in dead center.
Post #118 finally chased Wagner from the game in the seventh inning. After Campbell drew a leadoff walk, hits by Riley, Trey Rose and Kyle Rhea gave the visitors a 9-5 lead. Jarrett Garber came on in relief to record the final two outs of the inning.
Northern strode back to the mound in search of a complete-game victory. He had struggled in the sixth, losing velocity and giving up two hits before fanning Beckner to end the frame. But there was no sign of fatigue in the seventh and final inning.
Northern showed a little hop and a lot of pop in drawing tame fly balls for the first two outs, then struck out Levi Snyder on a 2-2 fastball to end the game. Irwin-Easley Post #118 won a lot of respect with the 9-5 decision.
The Blue Eye Bomber
In a Yogi Berra--type understatement earlier in the year, Roger Brock said of Zach Campbell, "This kid can hit!"
The scorebook from Tuesday's second game offers a concurring opinion. Campbell crushed a 3-2 fastball from Levi Snyder over the blue cinderblock wall in right field to give Post #118 a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Riley walked, stole a base and scored on Hartin's double to create a 4-0 score.
After Rhea held Carthage scoreless in the bottom of the frame, the Cassville crew loaded the bases in the second against new pitcher Dalton Strafford but failed to score. The Merchants scored once in the scond on Strafford's RBI single, but they also left the bases loaded, and continued to trail 4-1.
Seth Beckner became the third Carthage hurler in as many innings, and he walked both Rhea and Evan Stubblefield to start the third. James Musick hit into a fielder's choice, and he reached base with Rhea at third base and only one out.
Rhea scored on Beck's single, but sloppy baserunning resulted in both Musick and Beck being thrown out to end the inning. Still, Post #118 owned a 5-1 lead.
Until being thrown out at second base to end the top of the third inning, Musick had been relatively anonymous in the game. Post #118's starting pitcher was effective but shaky in holding the Merchants to a single run in the first two innings. Two walks in the first and three in the second put the Wheaton native on a short leash. When he nailed leadoff hitter Beckner with a pitch and then walked Snyder, Marple handed the ball to Rhea.
Before the inning was over, Marple would visit the mound numerous times, replacing Rhea with Tanner, and Tanner with Vanderpool. Whatever control virus Musick came down with, it infected the rest of Marple's staff as Carthage scored eight runs on two hits, three errors, and nine walks to take a shocking 9-5 lead after three innings of play.
Vanderpool doubled and scored on Riley's RBI single in the fourth as Post #118 crawled within three runs at 9-6. Vanderpool then struck out three Merchants around a walk and a hit to hold the home team scoreless in the fourth.
Marple's team entered the final inning trailing by three runs. Stubblefield and Musick opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Beck was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Tanner drew a walk to earn a run.
With Vanderpool at bat, a passed ball allowed Musick to score and cut the lead to only 9-8. Vanderpool eventually fouled out, and Beckner was replaced on the hill by Sam Carlton.
The first batter Beckner faced was Campbell, "The Blue Eye Bomber." After authoring a tape-measure shot over the wall in the first inning, Campbell encored with a rocket line drive that bounced all the way to the wall in dead center. Beck and Tanner crossed the plate in quick succession, and Campbell easily sprinted home ahead of the relay. The inside-the-park homer completed the improbable comeback, and Post #118 took an 11-9 lead.
Later in the at-bat, Riley was thrown out at the plate for the third out to keep the lead at 11-9.
In the Merchants' half of the final inning, Vanderpool struck out Luke Gibson for the first out, and Beckner for the third, as Post #118 closed out the cardiac comeback, 11-9.
Post #118 will be in action at the American Legion District 15 Tournament in Carl Junction, which began on July 13.