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This has been Trenton’s year so far in baseball, as it boasts a district-best 8-0 mark and 14-1 record on the season.
But Chiefland, the reigning 1A-7 champions and returning state finalists, proved last Friday they’re aren’t prepared to relinquish the throne without a fight.
After falling behind 2-0 to the Indians and trailing through four innings, the Tigers mounted a successful comeback to win 5-2 last Friday in the first meeting between the clubs this season.
Chiefland was 6-5 overall and 3-5 in district play heading into its home matchup against Dixie County Tuesday. The Tigers are 15-1 overall.
There was a playoff atmosphere surrounding the night, as the more veteran Trenton club looked to beat its cross-border rivals for the first time in six games.
Chiefland wasn’t phased out of the gate, as junior shortstop Seth Thomas ripped an RBI single to left-center field to score senior Lonnie Hinote, who was running for senior pitcher Casey Lawson (hit by pitch). Sophomore Kelby Osteen (2 for 3) then sliced an RBI double down the right-field line to pick up Thomas and lift CMHS to a 2-0 advantage in the bottom-half of the opening frame.
Lawson, a side-armed left-hander with an array of off-speed pitches, went to work on the hill as he and his Indian defense delivered a bend-but-don’t-break effort through the first four innings. Trenton left runners stranded at third base in the first, second and fourth innings, with Lawson twice escaping with strikeouts.
“Casey pitched real well and gave us a chance to win,” CMHS coach Kyle Parnell said. “We’ve got a few mistakes we’ve got to clean up, but we came out and competed and played through a couple tough spots too to keep the game close. Give their kids credit for doing what they needed to do to get the job done.”
The senior fanned nine through 5 ⅔ innings, while allowing five hits, four walks, a hit-batter and a couple of earned runs.
“Not everything went our way tonight, and I’ve got to give credit to Casey Lawson,” Trenton coach Adam Burton said. “He threw a heckuva game. We faced a quality pitcher and a quality team at that. It’s about winning the game and ultimately we pulled it out.”
A leadoff triple by former Indian Chase Malloy followed by an RBI single by Randy Fuller and an RBI infield grounder by Landon Kennedy gave Trenton its first lead of the game in the fifth. CMHS sophomore Keegan McLelland took over for Lawson with two outs and got a punchout to end the inning, leaving the Indians trailing 3-2.
Three Tiger base hits and an error and a wild pitch allowed Trenton to tack on a pair of insurance runs in the seventh.
Chiefland faced senior Trent Simmons, a longtime travel ball teammate of Lawson’s, for six innings, wherein he posted eight strikeouts, one walk and one hit-batter while allowing three hits as well as the pair of earned runs in the first.
Simmons and the TMHS defense retired 18 of 20 Chiefland batters through a stretch.
“It was more of a rhythm thing for him,” Burton said of Simmons’ slow start. “He wasn’t finding his off-speed pitch, and in this league you’ve got to have two or three you can throw for strikes. It took him until about the third, fourth inning to find it, and once he found it, he found his groove and settled in a little bit.”
Landon Kennedy came on to pitch in the seventh. Chiefland put runners on second and third base with one out in the final frame after sophomore catcher Elijah Smith and senior right fielder Jose Guerrero reached on an error. But Kennedy got a lineout and then a strikeout to close out the game with two runners stranded.
“Every district game we play is going to be a battle,” Burton said. “This district’s pretty healthy top to bottom as far as talent goes, and there’s been a lot of baseball played individually with these boys with summer and fall leagues.
“This environment is great, not only the community but for the boys as well, to come out here and be in this environment. I think both teams responded to it real well.”
Trenton’s roster boasts 15 upperclassmen, while Chiefland has just three seniors and three juniors.
“I’m proud of the way our kids came out and competed, a young team against a veteran team right there,” Parnell said. “We’ve grown in some ways and continue to grow.
“Obviously, we’re not satisfied not winning the ballgame, but we played well and competed so I’m proud of that.”
Chiefland and Trenton meet for round two Friday April 14 in Trenton at 7 p.m.