St. John Neumann second baseman Otis Anderson noticed the Montgomery third baseman creep up and knew he could make something big happen. Montgomery pitcher Marcus Bartlett stared down the heart of Neumann's lineup and emphatically asserted himself.
Anderson's legs and Bartlett's arm helped their teams win games in Monday's long and entertaining double header at Bowman Field. Anderson stole two seventh-inning bases and scored the game-winning run on Richard Allen's sacrifice fly as Neumann took the second game 9-8 after Bartlett struck out the side on 11 pitches in the opener, clinching Montgomery's 6-5 win.
Both games were wildly exciting, lasting 5 1/2 hours and featuring enough twists and turns to make Stephen King blush. Anderson's speed helped Neumann survive a big Montgomery comeback under the lights after Bartlett slammed the door on Neumann in the daylight.
"They never give up. They always play like that and these guys finally got it through their heads that they can play with these kinds of teams and that's what we needed to do," Neumann coach Ed Danneker said. "We needed to step up and win that (second) game."
"I told (Bartlett) you need to pitch every inning like you pitched the last inning and take control," Montgomery coach Tom Persing said. "Your job is to take control of the situation and he did that."
Neumann (3-2, 2-2 HAC-III) beat Montgomery for only the second time in the last 10 years and needed it with another doubleheader against Bucktail coming Wednesday. The Knights never trailed in the second game as Nick Grieco threw five strong innings, Allen earned the win in relief and Noah Beiter went 2 for 3 with 2 RBIs.
Still, it was the player making his first start that made the biggest difference. Anderson (2 for 2, 2 walks), hit a one-out single in the top of the seventh minutes after Montgomery (4-5, 3-4) scored four runs to tie the game. The sophomore is one of the league's fastest players and promptly stole second. When he noticed the third baseman inch toward home seconds later, Anderson decided to take off and stole third on the next pitch.
It was a wise and bold decision that paid huge dividends when Allen hit a sacrifice fly to center field later in the at-bat and scored Anderson. Allen retired Montgomery in order in the bottom of the seventh and Neumann earned a split it had to have.
"The first time (he stole) I got the sign, but the second time I saw the third baseman move up and knew I had my chance to go so I just took off," Anderson said. "After I got to second I knew I was going to get to third and I knew Tre would get me home."
"He's quick and he had the green light at third. That was huge to get him to third because I knew with his wheels we'd be all right," Danneker said. "He got a good jump, read the pitcher well and that's what made the game there, getting him over there so we could get him in on the sac fly. It was fun baseball."
Montgomery tied the game in the sixth despite delivering just one hit. Ray Farr made it a big one, though, hitting a two-out, two-run, two-strike single into left field. The Raiders had the tying runs on second and third, but Allen stayed calm and induced an inning-ending flyout before dominating the seventh.
"Tre is a good closer. I just had to get that run and get us up and I knew we could take the game," Anderson said. "We were kind of shaky (after the 6th inning) but we knew we could pull it off."
Neumann scored three first-inning runs and twice led by four runs. Montgomery kept coming back and Farr kept being the catalyst. The senior third baseman went 2 for 2 with two walks and four RBIs. His two-run, two-out fifth-inning single pulled Montgomery within 5-4. The Raiders scored six two-out Game 2 runs.
Farr had a huge double header, reaching base in all seven plate appearances. He went 3 for 4 with three walks and seven RBIs. He had two RBIs in the game 1 win and was in the middle of a decisive four-run sixth-inning rally.
"If he stays within himself and just comes through the hitting zone he puts the ball in play most of the time," Persing said. "He's a good quality kid and some of them just try to do too much and hopefully we'll get to the bottom of it and figure out how to win those close games and make playoffs and go from there."
Bartlett did his best to try and ignite a playoff run in the opener, throwing a complete-game seven-hitter and striking out 11. Allen and Ryan Reid hit RBI singles in the sixth to pull Neumann within 6-5, but Bartlett went into shutdown mode from there.
The staff ace had taken two hard-luck losses earlier this season despite throwing well but would not absorb another. He blew away some of Neumann's best hitters on 11 pitches, looking more like a closer than a starter who had thrown 126 pitches through six innings. Bartlett blew by fastball for the final out.
"I told him you can't worry about errors and things like that. Your job is to throw hard and be the dominant pitcher that you want to be," Persing said. "If he has good defense behind him and we don't make errors he's one of the best pitchers in the district."
Reid delivered two hits in Game 2 and Montgomery catcher Mike Alexander scored three runs and reached base five times while playing all 14 innings behind the plate.
Montgomery 001 104 0-6 6 4
Neumann 002 003 0-5 7 5
Marcus Bartlett and Michael Alexander. Isaac Beiter, Ryan Reid (4), Richard Allen (7) and Reid, Noah Beiter (4). W-Bartlett, (1-2). L-Reid, (0-2).
Top Montgomery hitters: Jake Miller 1-3, 2B; Ray Farr 1-2, 2 RBIs; Levi Lowe 1-3, RBI; Bailey Wilk 1-2. Top Neumann hitters: Allen 1-3, RBI, R; I. Beiter 2-4; Cody Forsburg 1-2, 2 R.
Neumann 310 013 1-9 7 3
Montgomery 011 024 0-8 7 2
Dylan Gordon, Zack Shadle (6), J. Miller (6) and Alexander. Nick Grieco, Allen (6) and Reid. W-Allen, (1-0). L-Miller, (1-2).
Top Neumann hitters: Reid 2-5, 2B, RBI, R; N. Beiter 2-3, 2 RBI, R; I. Beiter 3 runs; Kamaal Burkholder 1-3, 2 RBI; Otis Anderson 2-2, 2BBs, 2 R, 2 SBs. Top Montgomery hitters: Farr 2-2, 2 BBs, 4 RBIs; Matt Miller 1-3, RBI; Alexander 1-2, 2 BBs, R.
Records: Neumann 3-2, 2-2 HAC-III. Montgomery 4-5, 3-4.