April 3, 2013 12:00:39 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
Columbus High School junior pitcher/outfielder Hunter Mullis couldn't recall playing a baseball game that lasted that long.
"I really don't think I have been in a game like that," Mullis said. "I have never played one that long."
Senior outfielder Jimmy Cockrell echoed those sentiments.
"Never played that many innings," Cockrell said. "It was something else to have the strength to go back out there and keep battling."
Adrenaline carried Columbus a long way Tuesday night to a 7-6, 11-inning Class 6A, Region 2 baseball game at Sammy Fletcher Field. As soon as the final out of the 3-hour, 36-minute marathon was recorded, fatigue set as the Falcons gathered their belongings and headed home, possibly to do homework, or, most likely, to sleep. Fortunately for Columbus, they didn't have to get on a bus ride to go home. That misfortune fell in Tupelo's lap.
The game started in front of a large crowd with tons of sunshine. It ended with a scattering of family members hovered under blankets, trying to figure out which substitution was in which spot in which batting order.
"This game is so typical of our ballclub in so many ways," Columbus coach Jeffrey Cook said. "They just keep battling. They just keep working. They really give it their all. We make mistakes. We cost ourselves outs and runs, but we just find a way. When everything is going the other way, we find a way."
Columbus improved to 14-3 and 4-1 in region play. The victory gives the Falcons a two-game lead against Tupelo (10-8, 2-3) in the region standings. The teams will play Friday in Tupelo.
Anyone who has watched Columbus play this season probably forecasted several of Tuesday night's events. The Falcons made four errors and allowed five unearned runs. Columbus also had base running mistakes that prevented the game from ending in the seventh and eighth.
"We don't always take the direct path," Cockrell said. "But, somehow, we get where we are going."
Still, Columbus rallied from a 6-1 deficit with a run in the fifth and four runs in the sixth. Trace Lee smoked a double-play ball that ended the sixth when it appeared that Falcons were ready to breeze to the finish line.
"We had to come out ready to play and we didn't," Cook said. "We just pecked away at the lead. They only hit the ball out of the infield one time. We do a great job of learning from our mistakes and making sure they don't get us down. I can't say enough for the way we battle back."
Columbus had three hits off starting pitcher Hudson Roy in the fifth. While the Falcons only scored once, the seeds of a comeback were being planted.
An inning later, Michael Sturdivant, Gavonta Webb, and Cockrell began the inning with back-to-back-to-back hits to chase Roy. Wendell Goss allowed an infield hit to Christian Dale, whose nubber rolled an inch inside the third-base line. A bases-loaded walk to Chris McCullough made it 6-4. After a strikeout, Greg Sykes followed with an RBI single to left field.
Carter Clayton followed in relief and hit Logan Shackelford to force in the game-tying run. Then, with all of the momentum firmly wearing purple and gold, Lee smoked a bouncer back to Clayton, who started an inning-ending double play.
"All we needed was that one spark to get things going," Mullis said. "We have grown up a lot out here. We know the game is not over until the ump calls it. We are going to play hard for seven innings, or on this night, 11 innings. Our goal is to play it out to the end and to not give up."
After a masterful six-inning start by Trace Lee, the Falcons turned to Mullis. The duo allowed nine hits and only one earned run. Columbus pitchers walked three and struck out 12.
"Trace did not have his breaking ball going tonight," Cook said, "and that is his out pitch. Still, we throw away a double-play ball in the first and it becomes 3-0. In the fifth, back-to-back errors allow them to score three more runs.
"The pitching was outstanding. Even on not his best night, Trace really battled. Hunter then came in and slammed the door on them."
Tupelo managed a single base runner in the seventh, ninth, 10th and 11th. The only legitimate scoring threat was man at third with one out in the 11th. Back-to-back strikeouts worked the Falcons out of that jam.
"I was really tired," Mullis said. "The adrenaline was taken over and allowing me to pitch, but I needed a run."
The Falcons scratched that run in the home half of the 11th. Sykes drew a leadoff walk. Pinch-runner Demonta Kidd took second base on a sacrifice bunt by Mullis. Shackelford then drew a walk. After a flyout, a passed ball advanced both runners into scoring position. Sturdivant was intentionally walked to load the bases. New pitcher Ty Wheeler entered to throw the final of the four balls to Sturdivant for his walk. He then hit Webb to force in the winning run.
"We feed off each other," Cockrell said. "When one person makes a big play, then another person makes a play. We always believe it is our night. That was a great game. We got some hits and they got some hits. Fortunately, we won the war."
McCullough had three of Columbus' 14 hits. The junior first baseman also drew two walks and wasn't retired until the 10th. Cockrell, Christian Dale, Mullis, and Lee each added multiple hits.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter