Heath Myers' first hit of the night was a big one, a two out, walk-off single that propelled Northwestern to an opening playoff win over visiting Hillcrest 5-4 in an extra-inning thriller at Northwestern.
After giving up the tying run in the seventh inning, the Trojans bounced back in dramatic fashion one inning later to seal the win. Dustin Boylston drew a one-out walk, and then advanced to third when pinch-hitter Zach Watts crushed an 0-2 pitch to right field for a double.
With runners on second and third and one out, Hillcrest pitcher Zach McAllister struck out Dylan Carpenter swinging to set up Myers' heroics. Myers' first three plate appearances were uneventful, but it mattered little as he knocked a grounder past the first baseman for the game winner.
The run capped off a tremendous game, full of pressure and drama. Both teams had ample opportunities in the back-and-forth contest before the Trojans pulled out the win.
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Northwestern (12-13) opened the game with a run in each of the first two innings as starting pitcher Wade Ruff cruised through the Rams' lineup. Ruff pitched four innings, giving up four hits while striking out two.
Hillcrest (16-11) finally got on the board with a solo home run over the right-field fence by McAllister on a hanging fastball in what proved to be Ruff's only mistake of the night before getting relieved by T.J. Estes.
Estes got into immediate trouble, giving up two runs in the fifth. Estes settled down after his first inning, and stood to be the winning pitcher after he helped his own cause with an RBI double, scoring Will King in the bottom of the fifth.
King's go-ahead run followed an RBI triple from the Trojan shortstop, the only starting player from last season's Northwestern squad.
The run stood until the top of the seventh as King relieved Estes on the mound with a save opportunity on the line.
King quickly ran into a jam. Hillcrest's leadoff hitter, Dominique Anderson, reached on a full-count blooper to right field and Cameron Yost advanced him to second with a infield single. The Trojans picked up the second out on a fielder's choice, but King loaded the bases on a four-pitch walk to Keith Orr.
With the bases loaded, McAllister drew a walk to tie the game at four. McAllister battled off three full-count pitches before King walked in the tying run.
Northwestern only mustered a single in its half of the seventh, failing to pick up the win. King returned to the mound and shook off his control problems and set the Rams down in the eighth without giving up any runs, setting up the exciting finish.
Drew Hardee led the Trojans with three hits in as many at bats and scored two runs in his leadoff position. King picked up the win for the Northwestern, improving his record to 4-2 on the season.
"At this level, so much of the game is played between the ears," said Trojan coach Mitch Walters after the win. "We did a tremendous job of putting our mistakes behind us and focusing when we needed to.
"We lost a lot off of last season's team, but never want to use our youth as an excuse. These kids have been playing baseball all their lives, and really responded well to the pressure of a playoff game tonight. At this point in the season, all of the teams are evenly matched, we are extremely happy to get this one under our belts."
Hillcrest coach Drew Mahoney echoed Walters' comments.
"Tonight was a well played game by both teams," said Mahoney. "We lost to a scrappy baseball team, but with most baseball tournaments, we'll have a shot to battle back Saturday and maybe see them again later in the tournament."
Northwestern faces the winner of Lexington and Easley on Saturday afternoon, while the Rams will try to stay alive in the double elimination bracket.