Daily Reporter Correspondent
FORTVILLE — From the first day of the season, the Mt. Vernon baseball team’s goal has been singular.
Sweeping two from Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Delta at home Friday night, the Marauders took a big step along their journey to achieve it.
“Our goal, all year long, has been to be conference champions. From there, we’ll see what happens,” Mt. Vernon head coach Ryan Carr said. “But we really want to win the conference.”
The Marauders (6-6, 5-3) defeated Delta 6-2 in the first game and ended the night with a 3-2 victory to build some much-needed momentum in late April.
Spears powered the Marauders to victory from the mound in the first game, going six innings and reaching double-digit strikeouts in a HHC game for a fourth time — already claiming wins against Pendleton Heights and Greenfield-Central this year.
Mt. Vernon’s lineup stepped up and backed their starters with 11 hits total, including three extra-base hits.
A problematic top of the sixth inning was the only blemish in an otherwise impressive outing by Spears.
Sitting the Eagles (5-7, 2-6) down in order to open the first inning, the senior cruised through the first five frames, protecting the Marauders 3-0 lead behind 11 strikeouts — four to close out innings — and a pair of double plays.
The southpaw controlled the pace and the zone in dominating fashion before showing signs of fatigue in the top of the fifth, throwing two uncharacteristic wild pitches. Once his pitch count surpassed the century mark in the ensuing frame, the Eagles made their push.
Delta put two runs on the board after loading the bases three times. Spears walked in the first run on four straight pitches. The next runner scored on a fielding error before Spears slammed the door with a strikeout, stranding a pair of runners.
Spears finished with 102 pitches thrown.
“He’s gone 109, 107 and right around there. It’s something where he gets into too many deep counts. I don’t think he realizes how dominant he is,” Carr said. “He feels like he has to be really fine and waste a pitch. He does in the summertime, but at this level, he doesn’t. … That’s something he will have to do at the next level, but at this level, he can blow it past guys.”
As they did with a three-run first inning, the Marauders’ bats backed up their ace with another three-run outburst in the bottom half of the sixth.
The Marauders jumped all over the Eagles in the bottom of the first as Wyatt Vestal broke the inning open with a two-run double to left-center field. Christian Smith blooped a two-out single into shallow center for the third run.
With Mt. Vernon’s lead trimmed to one run, patience at the plate paid dividends for Brandon Turner and Smith, who both worked one-out walks in the bottom half of the sixth to chase Delta starter Arian Coffey.
Coffey went 5 1/3 innings with three strikeouts, four walks and four earned runs. After struggling to lock down the Marauders’ lineup in the first inning, the right-hander retired nine in a row and five more before Mt. Vernon put the game out of reach.
Loading the bases with a single from Nathanael Lash, the Marauders turned to pinch-hitter Michael Cripe, who delivered in the clutch with a sacrifice fly to center field in the decisive sixth inning. Cripe had been dealing with a sprained ankle suffered in the first game of the season.
An RBI-single from Tyler Franklin, accompanied by a throwing error, padded Mt. Vernon’s lead 6-2 as two runs scored.
Ryan Beck recorded the final three outs in relief to seal the victory. Spears (3-1) scattered four hits over six innings to collect his third win of the year. He walked three, hit one batter and was charged with an earned run.
The Marauders’ bats weren’t just lively in the nightcap; they were efficient.
Taking advantage of a Delta fielding error, Mt. Vernon scored their first run in the top of the third. The go-ahead run crossed home plate in the fifth via Spears’ sacrifice fly, while Noah Powell added an insurance run in the seventh as the Marauders won 3-2.
A routine groundout off the bat of Franklin in the third inning turned into a three-bag throwing error, putting the Marauders in prime position to score.
Beck capitalized on the opportunity, driving in Franklin from third base with a hard hit single to left field. Braydon Augustinovicz opened the top of the fifth with a leadoff double and Spears executed with a towering fly to center for the RBI.
“I love being that guy that has to step up,” Spears said. “When our bats are hot and we’re all clicking, I feel like we have a lot of potential.”
Powell’s RBI-single in the seventh followed Spears’ one-out double to left, which proved the difference maker as Delta rallied for one run in the bottom half.
Kennedy Parker and James Stricker combined for a one-hitter through six inning before the Eagles strung together consecutive singles.
Parker earned the win after going four innings, striking out two. Stricker went three innings with four strikeouts to record the save.
The Marauders play host to Westfield on Tuesday night.