Alexandria outlasts Elwood to reach third Muller final

Apr. 14—CONVERSE — A feisty Elwood squad again showed it could be a team to be reckoned with this season, but Alexandria survived and advanced Saturday in the rain-delayed Nick Muller Madison County Tournament semifinals.

Aaron Matthews recorded 15 strikeouts while going all seven innings on the mound, and Trevor Martin launched a go-ahead home run in the bottom of the sixth inning as the Tigers held off the Panthers for a 5-3 victory to reach the tournament final for the third time.

"Elwood, they played a really good game," Alexandria coach Jeff Closser said. "Our pitching was outstanding tonight. I don't know what our hitters were doing. We're not generally strikeout guys, and we struck out 11 times, I think, and maybe seven of them looking. Can't win ballgames like that, not very many.

"We got lucky tonight, and I give credit to Elwood. They played a hell of a game,"

Panthers starter Luke Jones was responsible for 10 of those strikeouts — seven on called third strikes — and he scattered six hits over 5 1/3 innings with just one walk.

The problem for Jones was timely hitting by the Tigers and some unfortunate miscues for Elwood. He hit two batters — who both came around to score — and two more reached on a dropped third strike and an error.

Alexandria (7-3) took advantage of the few openings Jones allowed.

Kaed Abshire tripled with one out in the second inning and scored on a two-out, two-strike single by Adrian Smith.

The Tigers tacked on two more runs in the third when Collin Johns and Matthews were hit to lead off the frame. Johns came around to score when Carson Cuneo's fly ball was misplayed in right field, and Matthews scored on a two-out, two-strike single directly up the middle by Martin.

It looked for a good while as though that 3-0 lead would be more than enough with Matthews rolling on the mound.

He surrendered just three baserunners — on a hit batter, a walk and an error — through the first five innings and commanded the strike zone with at least two strikeouts in every frame.

"He pitched an outstanding game," Closser said. "So I'm very proud of him,"

Elwood (1-4) struck the lone time Matthews opened the door in the top of the sixth inning.

After a lead-off single for Xavier Davenport, Jackson Blackford was hit by a pitch and Jones singled to load the bases with one out.

Then Bracken Jetty lined a 1-0 pitch deep over the center fielder's head for a bases-clearing double that tied the game and brought a roar from the Panthers' dugout.

"Elwood, they've improved," Closser said. "They're gonna give people some fits."

Jetty was caught stealing during the next at-bat and Matthews got a strikeout to end the inning.

The Tigers wasted little time answering back.

Martin drove a 1-0 pitch well over the left-center field fence for what proved to be the game-winning run. It was his first round-tripper of the season, but Closser doesn't expect it to be the last.

"Him and Carson, they're our big boppers," Closser said. "I think that's his first one, but he's been close several times this year. So he finally got it."

Abshire followed with a hard-hit double to the right-center field gap but was thrown out attempting to stretch the hit for his second triple.

It looked like a potentially crucial missed opportunity after Owen May followed with a ground-rule double to almost the same spot, but Alexandria still produced an insurance run with Johns' two-out single.

Matthews suffocated any drama from the seventh inning, striking out the first two batters on eight pitches and inducing a fly ball to center field to end the game.

"I also told our guys it took a lot of guts for them, after it got tied like that, to come back," Closser said. "I've had teams in the past that couldn't do that, and they did. So I'm proud about that, but we'll learn from this. We'll go back to work ... we'll get things shored up and we'll get better."

After rain earlier in the week forced the semifinals to be played on Oak Hill's artificial turf field, there is not yet a set date for the championship game.

Alexandria will face Pendleton Heights in a rematch of the 2012 final won by the Tigers — in May, after rain forced a long championship game delay.

Closser also led the Tigers to the tournament final in 2015. A date for this year's title tilt will be set by the participating schools' athletic directors.

"In 2012, we won it (and) the same thing happened," Closser said. "Pendleton came to our place because it was a scheduled (regular-season) game, and that's the only county we've ever won. So it's kind of funny.

"I don't know. We'll see what happens. We'll just play it out, and when they say it's time to play, we'll play."