MARION CENTER - Oh, that elusive final out.
Then again, if you're Central, you're asking, "What final out?"
Nick LaMantia's two-run single in the bottom of the seventh inning lifted Marion Center to a 3-2 victory Friday over the Scarlet Dragons in a District 6 Class AA baseball playoff game at Marion Center Community Park. The third-seeded Stingers will travel to Mount Union in a semifinal playoff game on Monday.
The come-from-behind victory foiled another fine effort by a Central pitcher. Two days after Zach Croft five-hit Tyrone in an 8-2 win, Austin Cunningham limited Marion Center to four hits through the first six innings and retired the first two men in the seventh.
"He said he wanted the ball today," Central manager A.J. Hoenstine said. "And what a game he threw. He didn't deserve to lose."
Cunningham, a sophomore right-hander who was making his first pitching start, struck out two and walked two.
After retiring Rio Coon on a fly out and inducing pinch hitter Justin Tonkin into a ground out, Cunningham yielded back-to-back singles to Garrett Glasser and C.J. Stiles. Mike Cavazza then drew a walk to load the bases.
"We felt confident that have a good group of guys who will never quit," Marion Center manager Paul DeHaven said. "So you just never give up until that last out."
LaMantia drew three straight balls before Cunningham worked the count full. LaMantia then dumped a single to center field, scoring pinch runner Andy Fox and Stiles.
"Nick and I talked before the at-bat and I said, 'Make him throw throw you good pitches,'" DeHaven said. "He looked at a couple of tight pitches and got a 3-0 count, battled to 3-2. And what a heck of a hit on his part. He just did a great job."
"I knew he had to throw a strike," LaMantia said, recalling the payoff pitch. "It was a straight fastball. It was right down the middle."
Hoenstine did not think it should have come down to that.
"I don't think the best team won," he said. "I don't like to say too much, but we got squeezed there [by the umpires] at the end of the game, I thought. And he didn't deserve that. Austin was right there all game. But that's the way it goes. That's sports."
Sixth-seeded Central (11-9) opened the scoring in the second inning when Ethan Lewis singled home Bradi Moore, who had reached on an error.
Heads-up baserunning by Brandon Negley pushed across the second run of the inning. After Ian Ebersole singled to center, Negley noticed that catcher Adam Smyers had yet to call time. Negley hustled down the line and beat the throw home to give the Dragons a 2-0 lead.
Even after Eric Adamson's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second, Negley's hustling score stood as the difference ... until the seventh.
Central left six runners on base, including five in scoring position.
"We had our chances to score runs," Hoenstine said. "It shouldn't have come to that."
Stiles pitched the first six innings for the Stingers. He struck out three and walked none. Matt Shank took over in the seventh and stranded two runners on base to keep the difference at one run.
CENTRAL (2): Cunningham p 301, L.Stern 2b 400, Hamm c 302, Hoenstine cr 000, Moore cf 310, Kreider 3b 300, Lewis dh 301, Slagenweit rf 000, Negley lf 311, Ebersole 1b 201, J. Stern ph 100, Mock ss 301. Totals - 28-3-7.
MARION CENTER (3): Cavazza ss 200, LaMantia cf-c 402, Shank dh-p 200, Smyers c 000, McCoy 2b 300, Thompson lf 311, Coon 3b 300, Adamson rf 100, Tonkin ph 100, Glasser 301, Fox pr 010, Stiles p-cf 312. Totals - 25-3-7.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Central020 000 0 - 2 7 1
Marion Center010 000 2 - 3 7 1
E-Cavazza, Mock. DP-Central 1, Marion Center 1. LOB-Central 7, Marion Center 6. 2B-Hamm, Negley. RBI-Lewis, Adamson, LaMantia 2. SH-Shank. SF-Adamson.
Central IP HEERBBSO
Cunningham (L) 6 2-373322
Marion Center IP HEERBBSO
Umpires - Home, Marty Knezovich; Bases, Bill Esposito, Bill Otto.
Records: Marion Center (14-3); Central (11-9).