Mountie baseball drops game two in rain-soaked affair

May 24—Tuscola baseball dropped game two of their regional championship series on Thursday night 12-2 in six innings.

"We made some uncharacteristic mistakes," Tuscola coach Zack Shepherd said. "We got hit in the mouth early and we didn't respond like we have all year."

While the loss to No. 1 East Rowan was rough, it doesn't spell disaster for the Mounties. Tuscola won game one of the series on Tuesday with a 7-4 comeback in the final inning, so the Mounties will head back east on Friday for a winner-take-all game three.

"We brought them back in here after the game because we wanted to get them back up, let them know there is a tomorrow. In baseball, there's not always a tomorrow, but they earned the right to play in a spot where there is a tomorrow," Shepherd said. "The good thing is we get to flush this one and get on the bus and go play."

The game was played in front of a fired-up crowd that packed the bleachers and lined the fence all the way around the field — including behind the outfield.

Before first pitch, Haywood County's own Balsam Range performed the National Anthem.

Through the first two innings, neither team managed to get a run across the board. That all changed in the top of the third inning.

Early in the game, rain came down in a drizzle. In the third inning, it began to pour.

East Rowan loaded the bases after a walk, error and single. A hit-by-pitch and walk gave the Mustangs a 2-0 lead.

Shepherd said that the rain doesn't affect his pitchers much due to their experience in travel ball and for the school. The real effect comes on the mental side of things.

"I think it just affects the psyche a little bit because everyone wants blue skies and sunshine," Shepherd said.

With the bases still loaded, East Rowan sophomore Harrison Ailshie belted one over the center field wall for a grand slam, extending the lead to 6-0.

The Mustangs added one more later in the inning on a fielder's choice, pushing the lead out to seven.

During the half-inning change, the call was made for a lightning delay after numerous strikes in the top half of the inning.

The East Rowan team stayed in their dugout, while the Mounties headed for the locker room.

"I'm going to give the kids the benefit of the doubt for the fact that there was a lot of hoopla, a big crowd at home," Shepherd said. "When that seven-spot happened, I think they were a little bit like 'Dang, we let everybody down' and didn't really know how to respond. When we came in here for the lighting delay, it was like we were at a funeral."

After an hour-long delay, play resumed. In the top of the fourth, East Rowan senior Cobb Hightower went deep to right field, opening the lead up to 9-0.

But the Mounties weren't done fighting.

In the bottom of the fourth, Tuscola senior Noah Stepp doubled into right field to score junior Evan Conner from first.

In the bottom of the fifth, it was Conner's turn to record an RBI, singling into center field to score senior Jed West from second.

East Rowan added two more runs in the top of the sixth to extend the lead to 10 and ultimately end the game early.

The two runs Tuscola managed to push across showed the fighting spirit that the Mounties have played with all year.

They'll need plenty of fight on Friday night, as they head back to the Mustang's home field for a winner-take-all game three to decide who will play for a state championship.

"I was glad that they fought a little bit. That shows a little bit of life, a little bit of hope. Now, it's winner-take-all," Shepherd said. "We're going to load the bus tomorrow and go compete the best we can."

First pitch in game three is set for 7 p.m.