After three innings, things looked fairly bleak for the Woodland baseball team Monday on the road at rival Cass.
At the time, the Colonels held a 3-0 lead over the Wildcats. Woodland's starting pitcher Peyton Posey and his defense had scuffled through the first few innings, while Cass' Logan Nelson managed to pitch out of jams.
However, fortunes reversed in the fourth inning. Woodland racked up six hits to storm into the lead, and the visitors never looked back in picking up a crucial 6-4 win.
"They didn't fold the tent, and they fought back," Wildcats interim head coach Matt Montgomery said. "They battled back and found a way, even two or three innings later, to scratch out some runs and get back in it. They didn't start pressing, didn't panic. Not trying to do too much, but trying to fix those mistakes we had early.
"I think Peyton did a good job of that. He didn't have his best stuff early, and I think he got better as he went and locked in a little bit more mentally."
Things didn't look great early on for Woodland (7-7, 4-3), which entered the game fresh off a sweep of Hiram.
Cass (7-8, 3-4), which in turn came into the game following a sweep at the hands of Rome, struck for three runs in the second inning. Clay Means doubled, moved to third on a single and scored on a throwing error. Courtesy runner Karson Kelley came home on Jordan Gani's single. Gani later came across on Nelson's grounder up the middle.
After stranding five runners total in the first three innings, the Wildcats finally broke through against Nelson.
Scotty Smith led off the fourth with a single and a pair of defensive miscues allowed him to reach third. Carter Heath brought Smith home with a knock of his own.
Another couple of singles, sandwiched around a fielder's choice, should have loaded the bags with one out. Instead, a poor throw into the infield following one of Bailey Ward's four hits squirted away and allowed a heads-up Tyler Strickland to score from third.
"He wouldn't be a stereotypical leadoff guy," Montgomery said of Ward. "He was hitting the ball well at the beginning of the year, but they just weren't falling. That's another thing about not panicking or trying to change a whole lot. ... Law of averages is paying off a little bit now."
Marco Haro lifted a sacrifice fly to score Queen and tie the game at 3-3. Koby Stansel followed with a clutch single to knock in Ward for the go-ahead run.
Woodland kept the momentum going in the fifth to plate a pair of insurance runs. Heath drew a walk before being replaced by courtesy runner J.T. Hampton. Posey doubled to put two runners in scoring position.
Queen looked to have recorded the second out when he lofted a popup into foul territory. But Cass' first baseman couldn't make the play, giving Queen new life. He took advantage by ripping a two-run single to center field.
Posey and Queen joined Ward with multiple hits, racking up two apiece. Posey also pitched the first six innings. He labored at times, allowing seven hits and two walks. But the sophomore used five strikeouts to help limit a strong Colonels offense to three runs.
Senior Ben Ammons entered in the seventh inning for the save. An error and a double by Matt Shook quickly pulled Cass within 6-4. Following a strikeout, a popup on the infield that Woodland's third baseman appeared to lose in the lights allowed another runner to reach.
That's when Ammons, who doesn't often pitch out of the bullpen, showed what he's capable of doing. With the winning run at the plate, he bore down to strike out the next two hitters to close out the victory.
"That was a great job by him," Montgomery said of Ammons. "Credit to Cass, with a new pitcher, they came out swinging. They were trying to battle back, and we had an error here and there. ...
"He didn't let the moment get too big for him. He was throwing his pitches and trying to hit his spots. It worked out for us."
Gani and Nelson each finished 2-for-3 with an RBI to lead the Cass offense. Nelson also drew a walk, while Gani scored a run. Shook finished 1-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and an RBI.
"We were attacking fastballs and getting ahead in the count," Colonels head coach Tim Ayers said of his team's solid start. "For some reason, we went away from that approach late in the game."
The two-game series is set to wrap up Wednesday at Woodland. Every region game is huge for both teams, as they each fight to remain a part of the playoff picture.
Both have had to deal lately with distractions, albeit starkly different ones. The Colonels have had to play while one of the their teammates, Nic Wallin, undergoes treatment for leukemia. On the other side, the Wildcats replaced its head coach with Montgomery, who was an assistant, earning the interim tag.
At least for a little while, Monday's victory helped Woodland put any off-field issues behind it.
"I think it's good for our guys mentally," Montgomery said of the win. "Everything they've been through, we need to get focused on baseball and good things will start happening to us. We just want to try to control what we can and keep it rolling."