ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph-Ogden’s ace Keegan McCarty was cruising through the Mahomet-Seymour lineup on Monday.
Through five innings, McCarty had only allowed a couple hits and had fanned 10. The Spartans had staked their lefty hurler to a 2-1 lead, and he needed just six more outs to hand the Bulldogs their first loss of the season.
M-S wasn’t about to let that happen.
Senior catcher Jon Latham led off the top of the sixth with a bloop single to right field. Quinn Miller ran for Latham and stole second base as McCarty fanned Ricky Bohlen for the first out of the inning. Five outs to go.
In stepped M-S senior right fielder Dawson Finch. Finch hadn’t notched a hit off McCarty in his first couple plate appearances, but he entered the at-bat trying to hit the ball to right field.
He did just that. Finch’s line drive to right field brought in the game-tying run, as the Bulldogs salvaged a 2-2 tie with SJ-O. The game was called due to darkness after the eighth inning.
“He’s really been working hard,” M-S coach Nic DiFilippo said. “He’s a kid who’s had some success and had some struggles. We’ve really worked on keeping his head down, flair the ball, drive it to the right side, look for a ball away, and sure enough, he got it. That’s what seniors do. They step up and come through.”
M-S junior hurler Kobe Essien struggled with his command in the first couple innings, but he settled down and pitched a a good game. Essien went five innings and allowed six hits and two runs. He also fanned 10 and walked four.
SJ-O got both of their runs in the second after taking advantage of two walks and a little blooper that fell at the feet of M-S senior third baseman Jack McHale. SJ-O sophomore Crayton Burnett then came through with a two-run single.
“After the second inning, (Essien) settled down and threw his breaking ball for a strike,” DiFilippo said. “First inning, we walk two and have an error and get out of the inning. Second inning, we walk two, two outs, have a huge error, and that’s the difference in the ballgame. After that, we shut them down. What do you do? You just keep battling.”
After Essien completed five innings, CJ McKinney came on in relief and didn’t allow a hit. McKinney issued a free pass to put the potential go-ahead run on in the bottom of the sixth inning, but he promptly picked the baserunner off first base.
M-S had a chance to go ahead in the top of the seventh.
Senior Jordan Veldman was robbed of a base hit on a fine defensive snair by the second baseman. Ben Greenberger laced a single to left, and Kyle Kinney and Latham both hit singles to load the bags with only one out. But Bohlen struck out and Finch grounded out to first to end the threat.
With the skies darkening in the bottom of the eighth, SJ-O led off the inning with a walk, but on the sacrifice bunt attempt, Kinney made a terrific play to throw behind the runner at second and get the double play. McKinney walked two in a row to put the winning run at second base, but Bohlen entered and induced a grounder to first to end the threat and salvage a tie.
“(McKinney) pitched really well and gets two outs, then he walks a couple guys, so we had to pull him, but we were able to get out of it,” DiFilippo said. “You’re not going to find many better teams that you’re going to play, and you come out and compete. That’s a really good role for him this year. He can come out and get more experience on the bump with varsity lineups. It’s different than junior varsity, and he’s doing a good job adapting to them.”
The Bulldogs avoided their first loss of the season and sit at 6-0-1 thanks to the effective pitching by Essien, McKinney and Bohlen, plus the timely hitting from Finch. Veldman, Kinney and Latham all finished 2-for-4. Veldman stole a couple bases. Gates also had a run-scoring groundout.
“That was their ace that we faced,” DiFilippo said. “St. Joe is a very good program. It’s always good to get out and compete. I thought the kids did OK. We battled, came back to tie it. That’s just a good game.”
The Bulldogs’ schedule will start to ramp up with Apollo Conference play. Effingham will come to Mahomet on Saturday for a doubleheader. First pitch is scheduled for 11 a.m. On Tuesday, M-S will play at Bloomington Central Catholic. First pitch will be at 5 p.m. at McGraw Park in Bloomington.