Marked Tree made two first inning runs hold up as the Indians advanced to the 3AA Regional Tournament next week at Monette with a 5-1 victory over fourth seeded Riverside Saturday afternoon at Lake City in the first round of the 3AA South District Tournament.
With one out, Mikey Scott was hit by a pitch from Riverside starter Jeremy Mann, who suffered the loss for the Rebels. William Ruthven then doubled to centerfield and the Indians had runners at second and third with one out. Indian pitcher Andy Lung hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Scott, to give Marked Tree a 1-0 lead. Phillip Bickerstaff rapped a run scoring single to drive in Ruthven, as the Indians took a 2-0 lead after the first inning.
The game remained 2-0 Marked Tree until the Indian fourth when lead off hitter Turpen reached on an error and stole second. Tyler Blagg advanced the runner to third on a ground out, before R.J. Ghant drove in Turpen with a grounder to short to give Marked Tree a 3-0 lead.
Riverside managed their only run of the game in their half of the fourth when Shawn Mathews led off the inning with a single to left field. The Rebels decided to sacrifice, as Cody Richardson successfully bunted Mathews to second. Lung uncorked a wild pitch, sending Mathews to third, with only one out. Jeremy Mann then lofted a sacrifice fly to drive home Mathews to cut the Indian lead to 3-1. Lung, however, shut the Rebels out the rest of the way, allowing only one other hit, a single by Richardson in the Riverside seventh.
Marked Tree tacked on two insurance runs in the top of the sixth when Bickerstaff led off with an infield hit and advanced to second on a balk by Mann. Ricky Stone laced a single up the middle, scoring Bickerstaff, to put the Indians up 4-1. The Rebels made two throwing errors on the play as Stone raced all the way to third base and came home to score on a sacrifice fly by Turpen to set the final margin at 5-1, Marked Tree.
"Andy Lung was just outstanding today," said Marked Tree Coach Matt Wright. "He is such a great competitor and loves to win. I thought our team did a great job keeping the ball on the ground and out of the air which was important today as hard as the wind was blowing. We got some big hits when we needed them and also came up with a couple of big sacrifice flies to drive in runs. We are very excited about advancing to the Regional Tournament and looking forward to playing Bay in the semi-finals of the district. They (Bay) beat us both times in the regular season, but we are playing much better ball right now." Wright's team improved to 9-14 with the victory.
After a slow start which saw the Indians with a 2-12 record, Marked Tree has since righted the ship and won seven of their last nine games.
"This is a very tough league, when you look at the top five teams in the conference," continued Wright. "Just a couple of weeks ago, Riverside was in sole possession of first place, and now,their season is over. Sometimes baseball is hard to explain, but one thing I do know is Riverside is well coached."
With the loss, Riverside ends their season with a 9-12 record, including five straight losses at the end of the year. Jeremy Mann saw his record drop to 4-3 on the year as the senior played the last game of his career, giving up five runs, two earned, on only three hits and two walks. The righthander finished with eight strike outs.
Lung went all seven innings, allowing just one run on two hits. The junior righthander did not walk a batter and struck out four Rebels in gaining the victory.
"Jeremy Mann pitched a great game for us today," said Riverside Coach Kevin Hall. "We just didn't get enough hits. Our bats fell asleep. Andy Lung pitched a great game for Marked Tree. He didn't walk a batter and they played great defense behind him. This was a disappointing finish to a pretty good year. We were in first place and all we had to do was win two of our last three conference games, but we just couldn't get it done. The East Poinsett County game at Lepanto was the killer. We had a six run lead and couldn't hold it and really played poorly after that.
"Its been an up and down season for us, but that's indicative of a young team. When you start four or five freshman you expect to take some licks, which we did. Our lack of pitching depth also really hurt us. But I am proud of this team. I had a great time and am looking forward to coaching them over the next few years. I am very optimistic about our future, with so many players coming back. We are going to miss Jeremy Mann, our lone senior, who had an outstanding year both hitting and pitching."