GREENFIELD — Nothing came easy Wednesday night, though the final stat sheet would echo otherwise.
The Mt. Vernon Marauders needed a series sweep against rival Greenfield-Central to stay in the Hoosier Heritage Conference race and after three-grueling hours, a combined 28 hits, 14 walks issued, four hit batters, two massive home runs and eight pitchers used overall, they kept pace by winning 17-11.
Down 3-0 after the first inning behind a mammoth three-run home run from Greenfield-Central’s Joe Roland, the Marauders (11-7, 9-2 HHC) rallied back — twice with a pair of huge offensive frames — to win their third straight game and complete the series sweep at Molinder Field.
Mt. Vernon won the series opener on Tuesday at home, as ace pitcher Eli Bridenthal tossed a one-hit shutout, 10-0, against Greenfield-Central (8-11, 4-7 HHC).
Twenty-four hours later, the Marauders kept in stride with HHC front-runner New Castle (13-2, 10-1 HHC). Mt. Vernon has three more conference games left ahead.
New Palestine is two games out of first in the HHC at 9-2 and 14-5 overall, while Mt. Vernon has a makeup game scheduled for Saturday at home against New Castle, which could tighten or loosen the race depending on the outcome.
“Going into tonight, we were a game out, knowing if we won this game, we’re at least one game out,” Mt. Vernon head coach Brad King said. “If (New Castle) lost today, then we knew we’re at least tied going into Saturday at our place. They have New Pal next week, and we have Yorktown. Both teams are very good. Those are the top-four teams in the conference, so anybody can win those. Again, there are no easy outs when you play in this conference.”
The Cougars didn’t roll over despite losing pitching ace and starter Conner Sims after only 1.2 innings thrown on Wednesday.
Chased in the top of the second, Sims struck out the first four batters he faced, but the junior right-hander left the game and didn’t return due to physical complications.
The Cougars were forced to turn to their bullpen, throwing four more pitchers the rest of the way, while the Marauders seized a 4-3 lead in the second and later turned a 6-4 deficit into a 10-6 advantage in the top of the fifth.
“Early in the season when we would fall behind, we really didn’t battle back,” King said. “We kind of turned the corner when we played New Castle (and won, 8-6, on May 4). We jumped out early and they took a lead, then we responded and came back on them. Since then, we’ve been putting up two-out runs and guys are, as the weather is heating up, their bats are heating up.”
The Marauders batted around the order three times against Greenfield-Central, loaded the bases seven times and used those opportunities to plate six of their 17 runs.
Gavin Johnston finished 2-for-4 and drove in three runs for Mt. Vernon. Landon Clark went 1-for-2 with an RBI, while Nathan Criss (1-for-3), Gavin Sullivan (2-for-4) and Bridenthal (1-for-3) each had two RBI apiece.
Konnor Scheidt (1-for-5) blasted a three-run home run in the top of the sixth that capped a seven-run frame, following a five-run fifth.
The Marauders initially charged back with a four-run second. In each big inning, Mt. Vernon senior Gehrig Slunaker, a Georgetown College commit for football, set the table for scoring chances.
Slunaker, a Class 4A football state champion this past fall, was 2-for-2 with a walk and three runs scored, reaching base to spark rallies in three different frames.
“We had some big situations and came through today,” Slunaker said. “I just hope as we’re getting towards the end of the season, we’re starting to heat up at the right time. Every game matters when it comes to the end of the season.”
Slunaker laced a one-out single to kick off the top of the second, which ended with 10 Mt. Vernon at-bats and a 4-3 lead.
“When they scored their runs, we responded. We could have folded after they jumped out to that 3-0 lead, and we came back,” King said.
The Marauders fell behind again 6-4 after three innings, as Roland drove in two with a bases-loaded single and ended the game 3-for-4 with six RBI.
G-C’s Zach Austin went 1-for-3 with two RBI, and Landon Brooks was 2-for-4 with three RBI.
“Our pitching was not good tonight. Connor is not feeling well, and we just didn’t pitch well after him, but we didn’t quit swinging the bats,” G-C head coach Mark Vail said. “I was really pleased with that. We kept scoring runs, and we kept battling, but it finally got to be too big of a deficit to come back.”
Greenfield-Central posted 12 hits compared to Mt. Vernon’s 16. The Cougars loaded the bases four times and netted five runs to make it 10-9 before the sixth inning.
“Slu started out that (second) inning with a base hit, and then we got rolling and took the lead,” King said. “Slu led off another one of our big innings (in the fifth). Slu was the catalyst in a couple of those big innings, and we just kept rolling. And, that’s what we kind of have to have this time of the year.”
The Marauders’ seven-run sixth was enough to keep the Cougars at bay.
“When you start to hit with guys in scoring position, it can become contagious,” King said. “These guys are starting to get that confidence where we know we can score with any number of outs.”
The pitching win went to Joseph Wilson, who was chased in the bottom of the fifth after sitting idle for more than 20 minutes with the Marauders’ bats surging with 11 at-bats in the top half.
“As a pitcher, you want to get as many runs from your team as possible, but then you’re also sitting and you start to get cold. He went down to the bullpen and threw a little bit to stay loose, but it’s not the same,” King said. “I think he had a nine-pitch inning, and then we put up a big number. He had just got in his rhythm, and then he was out of it. It was a big performance for Joe, and we’re going to need him to be excellent for us, if we want to try to win this conference.”
The conference is the primary goal for the defending HHC champion Marauders with their final full series next week against Yorktown (13-7, 7-5 HHC) on Tuesday at home and Wednesday on the road.
Mt. Vernon 17, Greenfield-Central 11
Mt. Vernon (11-7, 9-2);040;157;0;—;17;16;1
Greenfield-Central (8-11, 5-7);303;032;0;—;11;12;3
HR: Joe Roland (GC); Konnor Scheidt (MV). 2B: Eli Bridenthal (MV), Nicholas Heitman (MV), Devon Scheumann (MV).
WP: Joseph Wilson (4.0 IP, 7 H, 4 K, 2 BB). LP: Luke Willett (2.1 IP, 6 H, 1 K, 3 BB).