Maroon Rookies Knock Off Veteran Whites 7-6

As best Coach Ron Polk recalls, only once has a Maroon-White game been won by the younger team on the field. That was way back in 1982 when a rookie squad featuring some names of future-note such as Clark and Palmeiro upset their elders in the fall intrasquad contest.

Now the coach can add another group of pups to the career-account. "It's 24-2 now," said Polk after the Maroons upset the Whites 7-6 Friday evening at Dudy Noble Field. And this time the kids outplayed a varsity that looked very much like the team Polk put on the field last spring.

A three-run outburst in the top of the seventh broke a 4-4 deadlock in favor of a Maroon side consisting of rookies, redshirt, and transfers. The White lineup featured no less than 11 starting batter/fielders and much of the pitching staff from the 2005 season. But the younger team showed no respect to the veteran Dogs, as freshman infielder Brandon Turner's RBI-single put his side on top and freshman infielder Ryan Wiser crunched a two-run double that provided the margin of final victory.

The seventh-inning barrage came at the expense of White pitcher Josh Johnson, who was tagged for the ‘decision' on three hits with a pair of doubles and allowed all-earned scores. Moreover, the damage was done by the bottom-five batters in the 16-man Maroon order,

The varsity didn't go down easily at the end, belting three extra-base hits off lefthander Andy Wilson in the bottom of the ninth to cut the deficit to a single score with the tying runner reaching third base. Wilson, a 2004 letterman playing with the younger team to balance out the staffs, had pitched a scoreless eighth and had two down in the ninth when Matt Richardson hit the game's only home run, a blast left of the centerfield wall.

Infielder Brooks Tinsley followed with a double to leftfield and scored as third baseman Michael Rutledge, the top of the White order, lashed a RBI-triple to rightfield. That left it up to senior shortstop Thomas Berkery to keep the game alive and he pounded a hard grounder that bounced off Maroon second baseman Trent Thompson. The transfer infielder stayed with the ball and threw Berkery out by a long stride to end the evening.

By virtue of having thrown the bottom of the sixth as scheduled, freshman Drew Hollinghead got the ‘decision' for the Maroons with a single inning of work. Juco Jared Koon and Wilson took care of the last three frames.

"It was a fun game," Polk said, pointing to the first base dugout and a bunch of giddy rookies. "Those guys put together a couple of big innings." In fact, the kids needed a two-run rally in their sixth turn to even the score at 4-4 in the first place.

Rutledge was the game's hitting leader with three safeties on a triple, double, and single for the Whites. Wiser had his decisive double and a single and Jeff Flagg had two singles for the Maroons.

The starting lineup and batting order for the veteran Whites was: 3B Michael Rutledge, SS Thomas Berkery, 2B Jeffrey Rea, 1B Brad Jones, C Ed Easley, RF Brian LaNinfa, CF Jeff Butts, and LF Joseph McCaskill. Of course fans should not read much into the ‘order' because Polk's policy for these fall games is to bat by positions, starting with the infielders left-to-right, the catcher, and then outfielders right-to-left.

The ‘designated hitter' was actually six players each getting to swing as if in a 15-man lineup, and all would take turns in the field save for Joseph Hunter, the three-year starter in centerfield who batted but did not field after late-summer surgery on his shoulder. Other designated DHs were Bunky Kateon, Alex McIntosh, Mitch Moreland, Matt Richardson, and Brooks Tinsley.

The pre-scheduled substitutions for the varsity had Easley taking third base in the seventh inning; Kateon (4th) and Tinsley (8th) taking turns at shortstop; Tinlsey (6th) and Kateon (8th) at second base; McIntosh (5th) and Moreland (9th) at first base; McCaskill (4th) and Berkery (7th) at catcher; Richardson (8th) in rightfield; and Richardson (4th) and LaNinfa (8th) in leftfield. Only Butts played the whole game in one spot.

The Maroon lineup was 3B Mark Muzzi, SS Russ Sneed, 2B Richmond Alexander, 1B Jeff Flagg, C Wyn Diggs, RF Cade Hoggard, CF Tyler Bratton, and LF Nick Hardy. The DHs were Ryan Duffy, Scott King, Matt Lea, Andy Rice, Trent Thompson, Brandon Turner, and Brooks Lewis.

Defensive substitutions for the pups squad were: Thompson (3rd), Ryan Wiser (5th), and Sneed (9th) at third base; Alexander (6th) at shortstop; Turner (3rd) and Thompson (8th) at second base; King (4th), Duffy (7th), Hoggard (8th), and Lea (9th) at first base; Duffy (4th) and Lewis (7th) at catcher; Rice (5th) and King (9th) in rightfield; Hardy (6th) and Rice (9th) in centerfield; and Flagg (5th) and Diggs (8th) in leftfield.

Also as usual, pitching was apportioned out an inning-each, save for respective starters Jesse Carver (White) and Jeremiah Boling (Maroon) who each got to toss a pair of frames. Soph Wilson was the other exception as he pitched for the Maroons and took care of the last two innings.

The rest of the White staff were Moreland, Brett Cleveland, Jon Crosby, Brooks Dunn, Johnson, John Lalor, and Justin Piggott. Throwing turns for the Maroons were Chad Crosswhite, Matt Lea, Trent Hill, Hollinghead, Koon, and Wilson. The Maroon roster was otherwise made up of nine true freshmen, six redshirt freshmen and two redshirted juniors, and six more juco transfers for 2006, with a couple of squadmen (Boling and Hill) tossed in to balance out the roster lengths somewhat.

Three Dogs were held out of the game, all pitchers. "Mike Valentine has a little shoulder tendonitis," Polk said. "Aaron Weatherford has a pulled groin, and we still have to get a MRI on Ricky Bowen's elbow. And Joseph Hunter wasn't allowed to throw the ball to protect his shoulder."

The Maroons nearly wasted a first-inning opportunity, as Muzzi blooped a single over second base and with one out made second, then third on an errant throw by southpaw Carver as he was stealing. A pop-foul made it two outs and Carver went ahead 2-2 on Flagg and threw three more fouled-off strikes. Flagg won the battle though with a line-single over the leaping second-sacker for the RBI.

Carver hit Diggs, and a swinging strike-three to Hoggard got by the catcher to load the bases. Carver got Bratton to fly out in short rightfield and keep the score down to 1-0. The lead didn't last long.

Because Rutledge's drive to deep left got off the glove of Hardy for a leadoff-double, and Berkery evened the score with a bouncing single through second base. Lefty Boling was hit solidly by Jones and Easley but both drives died short of the fences.

Boling had some second-inning trouble also as LaNinfa's grounder took a hard hop off the mound and ate up a helpless Sneed for an infield single. With one down McCaskill cleanly singled through the left side. Boling managed to get Hunter to hack at a high 3-2 offering for a fly-out to leftfield, then draw another can ‘o corn to the same field from Kateon to strand a pair.

Carver retired the side in his second and yielded to Moreland, who sat three-straight with a couple of strikeouts in his frame. In the Maroon third with Cleveland pitching Wiser bounced a one-out single off the diving first baseman's glove, but he rounded the bag too far and was thrown out at first by LaNinfa.

McIntosh led off the White third with a chopper that pitcher Crosswhite could not field cleanly for an infield single. Crosswhite erased the runner, and batter, with a 6-4-3 double-play, which was timely because Richardson lined a double off the rightfield fence with nobody on base. That runner got nowhere as Crosswhite got bottom-of-order Tinsley to ground out to second.

Lea had his own troubles in the White fourth, starting with a leadoff single by Rutledge. That was erased on a twin-killing but an errored grounder at first, a balk and passed ball had Rea on third base. Lea coaxed a fly-out from Jones to maintain the deadlock.

It was broken in the top of the fifth as with one out and Crosby on the hill Sneed's one-hop grounder got through second base and deep enough for the shortstop to stretch the hit into a double. A throwback to the mound got away and Sneed took third, where he scored easily on a sharp single into rightfield by Alexander. Crosby needed a strikeout and excuse-me groundout to strand Alexander at second.

This time the Whites not only immediately matched the score but took the lead, at Hill's expense. Easley and LaNinfa singled to opposite fields, and Butts drove in the tying run with a line-drive single to rightfield. Worse, on a 1-0 count Butts took off for second and drew the throw. King's relay to second was high and Butts slid in safely while LaNinfa trotted across the dish with the go-ahead run. A wild pitch put Butts on third, still with no outs, before McCaskill walked.

Hunter's fly ball wasn't all that deep to centerfield and had Lewis fielded the throw from Bratton cleanly Butts would have been out. As it was the ball got under the glove and Butts came back to touch the dish for a 4-2 lead.

The Maroons deleted that deficit in the top of the sixth by hitting and running on Dunn. Hoggard led off with a scratch single and stole second a pitch later, getting in position to score on a single to rightfield by Bratton, who promptly stole the middle-bag himself. Dunn struck out Hardy, but Duffy's grounder got through first base and Bratton tied the score 4-4 with one down. A pickoff of Duffy and strikeout of King finished that rally.

In the top of the seventh Rice roped a one-out double off Johnson, who wild-pitched the runner over another bag before walking Thompson for Maroons on the corners. Turner went after the first pitch and lined it barely inches too high for Rea to snare on the leap. Rice scored the go-ahead run, and with two on Wiser crushed his clutch drive into leftfield. Thompson scored from third and Turner came all the way from first to home for the 7-4 lead, and while Wiser was thrown out trying to stretch his luck to third base he'd provided the key RBI.

Koon got himself in a bottom-of-the-seventh jam with consecutive one-out walks of Berkery and Rea. The tall juco righty coaxed a pop-out of Jones and got Easley to miss a changeup below the zone to strand the pair.

The Whites tried again to come back as with two down McCaskill singled to rightfield and Hunter lined a double into left. With two in scoring position Wilson got Kateon to bounce a 2-2 pitch to the right side, which Thompson charged, grabbed, threw, and nipped the runner by half-a-stride. The second bagman would pass his next test, too, on the game-ending grounder.

Whether or not any of these pups who prevailed in '05 ultimately have their names posted on the outfield fence as some superstars from the only other rookie team to triumph in Maroon-White competition won't be known for quite some time of course. But with so many veterans on the roster it can't but help keep competition for jobs going the rest of this fall. Which ends by mid-October, Polk noted. "We've got two-and-a-half weeks left, and we'll practice Sunday again.

"I think it's going pretty good, we've been banged-up some. Hunter can't throw but his surgery was successful, Hardy and Rice are a little tender. I'd like to get Weatherford back on the mound because he could be a factor for us this year. We'll be evaluating the players the next two weeks and get the ‘Banana Split' series in. And we're going to have to make some quick decisions in another three days because we've got to make another cut."

Gene's Page Top Stories