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Archive for Friday, July 24, 2009

Rallyin’ Raiders

Ninth-inning comeback lifts Lawrence, 3-2

Lawrence Raiders batter Coulter Vestal grounds out to end the second inning against the Kansas Senators Thursday, July 23, 2009 at Ice Field.

Lawrence Raiders batter Coulter Vestal grounds out to end the second inning against the Kansas Senators Thursday, July 23, 2009 at Ice Field.

July 24, 2009

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Lawrence Raiders batter Coulter Vestal grounds out to end the second inning against the Kansas Senators in the Legion Zone Three Tournament. The Raiders staged a two-run rally in the ninth inning and won, 3-2, on Thursday at Ice Field.

Lawrence Raiders batter Coulter Vestal grounds out to end the second inning against the Kansas Senators in the Legion Zone Three Tournament. The Raiders staged a two-run rally in the ninth inning and won, 3-2, on Thursday at Ice Field.

Two outs. Last of the ninth inning. Down by one run. Nobody on base.

Chances for a comeback by the Lawrence Raiders appeared to be somewhere between grim and hopeless.

Yet the Raiders staged a last-ditch mini-rally and stunned the Kansas Senators, the top-seed in the four-team Legion Zone Three tournament, 3-2, on Thursday night at Ice Field.

“I told them,” Raiders coach Wilson Kilmer said, “it was nice to look on the scoreboard and see the other team with more errors than us.”

The Raiders have struggled defensively all season, but they committed just one harmless error. Meanwhile, the Senators were guilty of four gaffes, including two in the fateful ninth.

The Topeka team led, 2-1, after snapping a tie in the top of the eighth and the way the Raiders were baffled by right-hander Ty Geary, that one-run lead looked like a 10-run cushion.

Geary had surrendered only two safeties — one a bunt and the other an infield single — through 82⁄3 innings. But then Jack Bush coaxed a walk putting the potential tying run on first base.

Moments later, Tanner Kilmer grounded a seeing-eye single to left and suddenly the Raiders had the tying run in scoring position.

But then the rally appeared to be over when Coulter Vestal stroked a ground ball to short. The throw was wide, however, and now the bases were loaded.

Up came Taylor Gentry who worked the count to 3-and-2 before chopping a slow grounder to the second baseman. Game over?

Nope. The ball was bobbled momentarily and Gentry, a left-handed hitter, barely beat the throw to first base.

“I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever run in my life,” Gentry said.

Because of the full count, the runners had taken off with the pitch. Pinch-runner Ryan Scott scored easily from third with the tying run and, seconds later, Kilmer crossed with the winning run.

“It wasn’t a textbook game-winning type hit,” Gentry said, “but it got the job done.”

Those two unearned runs made Geary a hard-luck loser for the second time in Lawrence. Last May, while pitching for Topeka High, Geary had a no-hitter through 62⁄3 innings against Lawrence High in the Class 6A sub-state only to surrender a game-winning home run to Tyler Bailey.

Lawrence High went on to capture the 6A state championship.

Thursday’s dramatic ending made a winner out of Raiders’ right-hander Mitch Whitson who fanned a career-high 17.

“I may have struck out double-digits in the little league,” said Whitson, a senior-to-be at Lawrence High, “but nothing like that in high school.”

It was also the first time Whitson had ever pitched a full nine innings. His previous high was eight.

“I thought about taking him out in the eighth,” coach Kilmer said, “but he was still throwing the ball well, and his pitch count was in the neighborhood of where he’s been before.”

Whitson threw 122 pitches, most of them fastballs.

“My fastball had a lot of life,” he said, “so I stuck with that.”

The Raiders (14-22) will meet the Blue Valley West (12-13) Jaguars at 2 p.m. today at Ice Field in the winners bracket. BV West rocked Olathe South, 13-7, in Thursday’s first game.

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