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Patriots stay alive in Region X tourney; rally late to edge Catawba Valley 7-5

May 16, 2016

BURLINGTON, N.C. — Needing a spark late Sunday (May 15) night Ryan Coale was there to deliver one.

The James Madison University bound sophomore hit a game-tying, three-run home run in the seventh inning before Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) scored two more runs in the eighth to defeat rival Catawba Valley 7-5 in come-from-behind fashion in a Region X/Southeast District elimination game at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

Coale launched a 3-1 pitch off the scoreboard in right field, igniting a wild celebration and a jolt of life in the PHCC dugout. One swing helped erase a multi-run deficit to that point and sparked a late-game rally to complete the season sweep of the Red Hawks, taking all three regular season meetings at Hooker Field on Apr. 2-3.

It also marked the 50th home run hit by the Patriots this season.

“I tried not to be too anxious and let the pitch come to me,” Coale said of the at bat. “If (the pitcher) hung one just stay through it, don’t think about it and just swing. I tried not to get too excited right away, but I saw the right fielder stop with his back at me and knew it was over.”

It was the eighth home run for the catcher this season, and his only hit of the game couldn’t have come at a better time. Coale said he knew he wouldn’t get much to hit, so when he worked into a favorable count he made sure to deliver what he called one of the best moments of his baseball career.

“We needed that (home run) for many reasons,” Region X Coach of the Year Frank Jagoda said. “One, we needed to put some runs on the board and we needed a spark and that’s exactly what that provided. Ryan stayed within himself in a hitter’s count and that’s exactly what we preach.”

PHCC added more misery to the Red Hawks bullpen an inning later when No. 8 hitter Jerald Negron reached base on a one-out single to center. Following a Montae Bradshaw strikeout, leadoff hitter Rashad Stewart worked a walk, creating a wild series of events a batter later.

Sophomore Aaron Nanney ripped what looked to be a sure double just inside first base, but CVCC first baseman Walker Smith made a great diving play to his left. However, while trying to get to the bag he bobbled the ball and the toss to pitcher Jacob Breakfield was dropped, scoring Negron from second with the go-ahead run. Stewart hustling to third on the play, forced another wild throw, adding an insurance run and a 7-5 lead.

The late-inning drama wouldn’t have been possible though if it weren’t for the Herculean effort by sophomore starter Yashuan Santiago. The right hander pushed through seven innings on a career-high 142 pitches after suffering a four-run, first inning. From there, Santiago allowed just one run over the next six innings and was able to save arms by working out of trouble in the sixth inning and keeping the Red Hawks off the board in the seventh with a pair of strikeouts.

Santiago admitted afterward that he was a bit surprised to make it through seven innings on a pitch count nearly double his season average.

“In that seventh inning when I went out to talk to (Santiago) he would not let me take him out of the game and I fully appreciate that,” said Jagoda when looking to possibly make a change to reliever Robert Fitzwater. “I went out with an idea of taking him out and he looked me in the eye and said ‘I got it’ and he did. Robert then came in and did a fantastic job.”

Fitzwater threw two innings of no-hit relief with a walk and two strikeouts to pick up the win.

Jagoda said Santiago centered the ball a few times in the first inning and Catawba Valley’s hitters made him pay. Brandon Ford made it 1-0 on a single, scoring Region X Player of the Year Ty Andrus, who led the game off with a single to center. Craig Zalewa followed with a two-run double — his 25th — to the corner in right before an error platted him and a 4-0 CVCC lead.

From there, Santiago settled in, stranding runners on the corners in the second, and then getting through arguably his biggest inning in the sixth. A double to left by Chris Stiles put runners at second and third with no outs. Aaron Mauldin made it a 5-2 game with a fielder’s choice groundout to short before Santiago was able to get a big strikeout and groundout two batters later to end the threat.

“It’s the point where you put it through your mind that you just have to get out of the inning and give your team a chance,” said Santiago, who scattered seven hits with five walks and eight strikeouts. “You have to be confident in yourself and be confident in your pitches. All season I hadn’t thrown a good changeup and I threw two in a row to get a strikeout and then got out of the inning.”

The Patriots offense was kept in check over the first four innings by Red Hawks starter Taylor Purus. It wasn’t until a Jose Castro single to left in the fourth that PHCC registered its first hit. The single came on the heels of back-to-back walks and wild pitch was able to get the No. 1 seed on the board as Cody Powers came across to score.

PHCC cut the deficit in half an inning later as Stewart led off with a bunt single to third before stealing second. He then came home on a pair of groundouts to first, the second by Brandon Nania for the RBI.

Catawba Valley threatened to retake the lead in the eighth but Jonah McReynolds was able to strand a runner at third by making a big throw behind the mound on a high chopper to get the speedy Andrus.

“We’ve had a whole variety of baseball games this year and going through that in the regular season helps prepare you for a tournament setting,” Jagoda said. “Crazy things happen in tournaments and these guys are experiencing that first hand. It was exciting to see some guys respond and do things down the stretch to win a ballgame … Catawba Valley has been the class of this region for several years. Coach (Paul) Rozzell does a good job with those guys and this was a good college baseball game. A lot of emotion from both dugouts and that’s to be expected in a win or go home situation.”

The Patriots look to stave off elimination for another day when they look to down Wake Tech at 3 p.m. today (May 16) for a shot at the championship against No. 2 seed Brunswick Community College. Wake Tech is the only team in the Region not to have lost to PHCC and defeated the Patriots 6-1 Saturday earlier in the tournament. It also swept a three-game series in Raleigh, N.C. to open Region X play Mar. 25-26.

Should PHCC win both games it will force an if necessary winner-take-all championship game with Brunswick at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Notes: Cody Powers also hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning for a 6-3 win over Southeastern CC in the team’s first elimination game of the day.

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