April 1, 2010 9:23:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- A marathon ensued Wednesday at Volunteer Field, as Starkville Academy and Heritage Academy played a doubleheader of back-and-forth baseball that resulted in the home team taking a pair of much-needed conference wins.
Starkville Academy got a walk-off grand slam from senior Ben Thebaud to earn a run-rule 16-6 win in the opener of the conference doubleheader. The Volunteers followed that with a walk-off passed ball score for a 15-14 win in the four-hour nightcap.
Starkville Academy improved to 9-7 and 4-5 in Class AAA play ahead of next week''s series against Magnolia Heights.
"It gives us a lot of confidence to prove we can win a series," SA coach Neal Henry said. "These are two wins we really needed to have."
While Henry rejoiced his team''s doubleheader win, Heritage coach Steve Hancock bemoaned the missed opportunities by his young team, which starts four freshmen.
"These are two wins we desperately needed. I told the kids this is pressure they''ll have to be able to handle," Hancock said. "We have to scrap and claw for anything we''re going to get, and we just didn''t execute in some areas today. This puts our backs against the wall even more."
Heritage (7-6, 3-6) will take on Madison-Ridgeland Academy on Tuesday and Thursday.
Starkville Academy 15, Heritage Academy 14
Things got wackier as the innings dragged on.
Errors, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, and chants of "c''mon blue" from supporters of both teams painted a colorful picture for the rivalry rubber match.
It didn''t take long for the frustration to mount, at least for Heritage Academy, as the Patriots appeared to show the effects of their late-inning letdown in the opener when they allowed six runs in the first inning.
Starting pitcher James Clark walked the first two runners before giving up a two-run single to Will Fuller, who then scored on a wild pitch.
Farley Fondren then scored on a wild pitch to give Starkville Academy a 5-0 lead. Hancock brought in Tyler Farnham, who walked in a run before getting out of the inning.
"We didn''t get good starting pitching today, and that''s an anomaly for us," Hancock said. "It really put us behind and made us have to fight that much harder to get back in it."
Hancock wouldn''t have to worry about his team''s effort, as Farnham settled down in the next three innings, giving up a run in the second and fourth before the Volunteers tagged him for five runs in the fifth.
But Heritage Academy pulled even in the top of the fifth thanks to RBI singles from Austin Braddock and Will Bonner and a two-run single from Cole Eller.
Starkville Academy starting pitcher Ian Tharp gave way to Fondren, who allowed three straight hits before getting out of the jam.
The Volunteers responded with a five-run inning before the Patriots answered with five runs in the sixth.
The wackiness included a dropped putout at first that scored a run and a balk by Ryan Mann that scored a run for Heritage Academy.
Thebaud put Starkville Academy ahead 14-13 with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, but Clark drove in a run after shortstop Kyle Henson airmailed a throw to first base.
Tied at 14 with just one out, Mann recorded a strikeout and a flyout to end the inning.
A one-out single from Fuller got Starkville Academy started in the bottom of the seventh. Doug Pettit was hit with a pitch, and Fondren grounded out to push both runners into scoring position. Junior Adam Crittenden didn''t need to swing the bat, though, as Clark''s pitch missed the catcher to bring in Fuller from third.
An exhausted Henry lauded his team''s ability to answer what Heritage Academy did in the fifth and sixth.
"They battled and we battled. They''d scratch a few runs and we''d scratch a few runs," Henry said. "It was good for our kids to answer every time they did. You''d like to be a 10-run rule and out in five, but it''s a good thing for our kids to scratch back. We can build on that for the future.
Mann got the win, while Clark took the loss.
Starkville Academy 16, Heritage Academy 6
A 10-run sixth inning, capped by a Ben Thebaud grand slam, clinched a run-rule victory for the Volunteers in the opener.
Thebaud took a first-pitch fastball from Joey Kleis and drove it over the left-center field fence to cap a furious inning that was marred by Heritage Academy''s struggles on the mound.
With no outs, Heritage Academy pitcher Cole Eller gave up an RBI single to Thebaud and an RBI double to Ryan Mann before allowing a run on a wild pitch.
The rough start to the inning resulted in a 10-6 Volunteer lead, and with no outs Hancock brought in Kleis to finish the inning.
The pitching change had little effect, as an error in right field plated a run and another run scored on a walk before Thebaud''s grand slam.
In the top of the frame, Heritage Academy had scored three runs to tie the game at 6.
Will Fuller picked up the win, while Eller took the loss.
Braddock had a solo home run in the third, and Eller had two singles for Heritage Academy.
"We put them away," Henry said. "We had the big inning where our bats got hot. I''ve never seen a walk-off grand slam."
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