Plymouth survives Cougars, 4-3

PLYMOUTH — Just when things seemed their darkest, Plymouth found a way to pull out the win.
Damon Howe was ejected for arguing a called third strike in the top of the seventh, leaving the Pilgrims trailing 3-2 with two outs before Connor Flynn scored on a passed ball at the plate, and Chase Peters drove in Kyle Cartwright after Cartwright’s double to left-center to give the home team a one-run advantage after trailing throughout the night. With Howe gone, Hayden Skirvin took over at first in the bottom of the inning and came up big, making a diving catch of an Austin Rieff line drive and putting the tag on Westley Ellis as he tried to scramble back to the bag for a one-man double play that sealed the thrilling comeback win, 4-3, as Plymouth staved off first round elimination in the muddy, cold conditions in the late nightcap of a Class 3A Sectional 19 doubleheader at Bill Nixon Field Thursday.
Plymouth survives to play Rochester — which beat Culver Military Academy in Thursday’s opener — in the semifinal Monday at 1 p.m.
“We’ve had a couple games where we’ve come back this year, and we’ve had a couple games where some other teams have come back on us, so we’ve talked about that the last couple weeks,” said Plymouth head baseball coach Tony Plothow. “We’ve talked about how that’s how the tournament is — just a couple outs, one extra out, an extra pitch — can make a big difference.
“A lot of big plays tonight on both sides.”
Howe, a four-year first baseman and pitcher, was ejected from the game for complaining when he was struck looking at a called third strike for Plymouth’s second out of the seventh. It was the second called strikeout of the frame after lead-off batter Houston Hodges was called looking at a Seth Shail curveball for Plymouth’s first out of the inning, and it was the sixth such call of the night against the Pilgrims. Flynn cranked a one-out single to left-center — the first of three base knocks to left-center in the frame — Cartwright doubled a 3-1 offering to the left field fence with two outs to put him at third, and Flynn scored on a passed ball at the plate to even the score at 3-all. Peters’ two-strike, two-out RBI single scored Cartwright for the game-winner, and the Plymouth junior pumped his fist in celebration as he headed down the first baseline.
“I had two strikes, so I knew first off I had to protect,” said Peters. “I just choked up, waited back and took it up the middle; that’s all it took. Kyle Cartwright had the big double, everyone contributed to this win. This is a big win.”
“Cartwright’s hit was huge,” said Plothow. “We lost momentum in a game-changing play with Damon getting tossed, and Kyle just comes up. He’s been big for us for three years with a lot of big hits.”
Skirvin’s game-finishing play was as much mental as it was physical, as the junior has seen limited time on the field this season and sat through eight dreary innings as a spectator at Thursday’s game. After Ellis drew a one-out walk holding off on a full count pitch from Plymouth ace Richie Luva, Rieff’s line shot on Luva’s first offering looked like it would get through before Skirvin dove right for the snag, tagging out a scrambling Ellis who was caught with nowhere to go.
“It feels great,” said Skirvin. “It’s been awhile since I’ve played the field. But all the credit has to go to Richie. I think he only gave up two earned runs to keep us in the game.”
While Skirvin’s heads-up play provided the capper, Luva’s command in the swampy conditions kept the game close as he and Shail battled it out through seven innings. The senior ace, who owns just one loss this season, gave up only one walk while striking out three and surrendering six hits.
“I was feeling good; it was just a little muddy out there,” said Luva. “I kept my focus, kept throwing strikes and letting my infield make the plays. Everybody did a great job today to come back and win like this. It feels good.”
The Pilgrims trailed throughout the night after a two-run second by New Prairie as Patrick Zwierzynski doubled in Shail, and Ellis hit a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Zwierzynski after he was moved up by a Drake Wisser single.
Plymouth cut the lead to 2-1 in the fourth as Howe drew a walk battling back from an 0-2 count, and Cartwright and Peters moved him to third with consecutive singles. Luva grounded into a double play at short, but not before Howe scored to keep the game within one.
New Prairie answered back with another run in the bottom of the fourth as Zwierzynski lofted one to the center field fence with two outs for his second double of the night and was scored on a high Wisser fly that got dropped in center.
New Prairie closes at 12-14, while Plymouth moves on to play Rochester in a Sectional 19 semifinal Monday following another semi between John Glenn and Mishawaka Marian, scheduled for 11 a.m. The championship is slated for 8 p.m. Monday night.
“the kids are confident; I think they’ve been confident all year,” said Plothow. “We’re just going to try and ride the momentum. That’s what you do in the tournament, you just ride the momentum, so we’ll see how it goes.”
At Class 3A Plymouth Baseball Sectional
Plymouth: 000 110 2 — 2 9 1
New Prairie: 020 100 0 — 3 6 4
Richie Luva (W) and Kyle Cartwright; Seth Shail (L) and Kody Gorny.
2B: Patrick Zwierzynski 2 (NP), Drake Wisser (NP), Chayse Davis (NP), Cartwright (P).