MEDICINE HAT, AB – It was a game that required every ounce of offence they had, but the Medicine Hat Mavericks were able to edge by the Edmonton Prospects by the slimmest of margins Sunday.
Trailing by five runs less than four innings into the game, the Mavericks rallied behind the bat of third baseman Austin Sojka to win a 13-12 shootout and take two of three games against the Prospects.
Sojka, who led the team with a five hits and drove in four runs in the win, said the Mavericks stuck with the game plan through all nine innings.
“If you just keep playing the game the right way, good things will happen,” said Sojka. “I believe that’s what happened today, the ball just happened to roll in our court.”
That ball was squarely in Edmonton’s court to open the game however, taking a 3-0 lead in the first inning over the Mavericks with Travis Hunt, Edgar Harrell, and Beaux Guilbeau all driving in runs.
Those three runs brought Garrett Nicholson’s afternoon to a premature end, as the Mavericks starter was pulled from the game after just one inning of work with three earned runs allowed on three hits.
Medicine Hat showed little panic however, getting two runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning from a Colton Wright RBI-single and a walk with the bases loaded.
Collin Klingensmith was able to tie the game at 3-3 in the second inning with a single to bring home Freddy Walker, before a Prospects wild pitch scored the Mavericks lead-off man to put Medicine Hat ahead.
The Mavericks lead held for just a matter of minutes though, with a Bryce Libke wild pitch in the fourth inning scoring Edmonton’s Javier Ramirez to tie.
That was followed up by RBI-singles from Jake Gehri and Nolan Walker, before Guilbeau launched a three-run shot skyward for his first homer of the season to make it a 9-4 Prospects lead.
But just as they did in the first inning, Medicine Hat’s bats responded in the bottom half with Sojka driving in Klingensmith, Sal Rodriguez producing a sacrifice-fly, and a Wright walk with the bases loaded.
Trailing by two runs in the fifth inning with two men on, Sojka cranked a Jackson Bandow offering to left-centre for his third home run of the season to restore Medicine Hat’s lead 10-9.
“It’s always fun to have one of those,” said Sojka. “You don’t really come across them very often, so it’s always nice when you get a good home run and get a good piece of wood on the ball.”
Edmonton jumped back in the driver’s set before the seventh inning stretch with two runs themselves, defensive miscues cost them again in the bottom half of the inning with a wild pitch scoring the tying run from Klingensmith.
Medicine Hat was able to jump back into the lead 13-11 in the bottom of the eighth inning off an RBI from Nolan Rattai and another Prospects wild pitch, setting the stage for the Mavericks to close things out in the top of the ninth.
Holding a man on first base it seemed as though the Mavericks were going to turn a double-play, but a hop on the dirt advanced the runners for Edmonton.
Medicine Hat then tried to pick off an attempted stolen base at second, but were charged an error with no one covering the bag which allowed Brendan Luther to cut the deficit to a single run.
With runners on the corners, Mavericks closer Jon Guardado was able to get Gehri to hit into a game-ending ground-out to second base for the 13-11 victory.
After the game, Mavericks bench boss Tom Vessella said it was a test of mental fortitude for his club.
“We gave up three in the first and then came right back and put up a two-spot,” said Vessella. “That’s the sign of a good team, that’s the sign of people who battle. We’ve been preaching for the last couple of days that you have to play for each other and that’s exactly what happened.”
Winning two of three game against the Prospects over the weekend, the Mavericks climbed past the Fort McMurray Giants into fourth place in the Western Division with a 9-13 record.
Two wins that Vessella said are big for the team trying to pull themselves back up the divisional standings.
“They’re a divisional rival and we’re hunting them in the standings,” he said. “To actually come up and win two out of three here, including the two we had [in Edmonton], that speaks a lot for what we can be as a team.”
Sojka was the star for Medicine Hat at the plate on Sunday afternoon, going 5-for-6 with a team-high four RBIs and one home run.
Stats that don’t surprise Sojka’s coach, who gave him the green light to swing for the fences in the fifth inning.
“Austin is a heck of a hitter,” said Vessella. “He came into me in one inning and said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ It was a bunt situation and I said, ‘I want you to hit.’ Sure enough he hit the ball out, so when you got a guy like him it’s real easy to say, ‘Austin, go play.’”
Along with winning their series with Edmonton, the Mavericks also pointed to their response from a trying fourth inning as something to build upon the rest of the season.
“Baseball is such a game of failure,” said Sojka. “So, you have to deal with a lot of adversity from game to game. It’s just the way you handle it and we’ve been handling it really well lately.”
The road to a .500 record doesn’t get any easier for the boys in red and white however, as they now get ready to head east for a three game set against the 13-3 Regina Red Sox.
A team that Vessella said will bring all they can in a rematch of last year’s WMBL finals series that went five games.
“They’re very strong, they do everything well,” he said. “It’s going to put a test to us, we’ve got to do well from the beginning again. We got to pitch, we got to hit, we got to field, that’s all of baseball but if we do that we’re going to be in close ball games.”
Junior Pimentel will get the call for Medicine Hat to open the series on Monday, opening pitch from Currie Field is scheduled for 7:05 pm.
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