Mount Gilead’s Jonny Martinez recorded a pair of hits to help the Indians top Centerburg in a Tuesday sectional baseball contest.

Rob Hamilton | Morrow County Sentinel

A gritty Mount Gilead baseball team was able to outlast visiting Centerburg on Tuesday to advance to the second round of the Division III tournament.

The Indians battled back from deficits multiple times in a back-and-forth game in claiming a 9-7 victory in a contest where the winning runs were scored in the bottom of the sixth inning before relief pitcher Cole Fricke closed things out with a scoreless seventh.

“I was proud of our kids today,” said head coach Mark Kennon. “They stayed in and they battled. They just kept battling and battling. We had two freshmen on the mound today. That’s very positive. (Gage) Bake threw very well and Fricke came in and closed it out for us. You couldn’t ask for anything better from them.”

Until the very end, neither team was able to feel confident with a lead. Baker could have had a perfect first inning, but a misplayed pop-up led to a pair of two-out run scoring hits that gave the Trojans an early 2-0 lead.

The Indians immediately responded with three of their own in the bottom of the inning. Two hit batters and a walk loaded the bases for MG. After a Centerburg error on a Jonny Martinez grounder brought one run in, a single by Judah Reid and a groundout by Hayden Somerlot drove in runs to stake the home team to a 3-2 lead.

The Trojans responded with two runs in the second to regain the lead at 4-3, but the Indians struck for two more runs in the third. With two on and two out, Mason Barnum walked to load the bases and Graham Sherbourne responded with a single to put Mount Gilead in front by a 5-4 margin.

Kennon was pleased with the hitting of the bottom of his order against Centerburg.

“Our top of the order has carried us all season long and today, the bottom of our line-up with Barnum and Sherbourne came through with some clutch hits tonight and it was big for them,” he said. “I was proud of the kids.”

The team wasn’t able to rest on that one-run advantage, though, as the Trojans wasted no time in putting up a three-run fourth inning to surge in front by a 7-5 count. However, Mount Gilead would get RBI singles by Reid and Somerlot in the bottom of that inning to tie things up going into the fifth.

Entering the game in relief, Fricke was able to keep the Trojans in check, only giving up one baserunner per inning over the final three frames. While Centerburg was able to advance that runner to third base in both the fifth and sixth innings, MG would be able to get out of those innings unscathed.

The Indians would then pick up the winning runs in the sixth inning. Martinez opened with a single and took advantage of a pair of wild pitches to make it to third. With one out, Somerlot was intentionally walked. Barnum then gave the team an 8-7 lead with a single and Sherbourne loaded the bases with an infield hit. A Fricke groundout would then bring in an additional run to give the team a bit of breathing room.

“It’s just the way the game went,” said Kennon. ‘It was going to be who is going to make the key hits and we made the key hits. I’m proud of the boys, they played really well tonight. I’m proud of our seniors, too. Last game on the field and they got a win for us.”

Fricke would then record the final three outs, only giving up a walk in the seventh inning, to send MG on to a road contest with West Jefferson Thursday.

After his team suffered a few lopsided losses to end the regular season, Kennon noted that the mindset was to treat the playoffs like a brand new season — a mindset that worked against Centerburg.

“That’s what we told the kids — we’re 1-0,” he said. “Before the game started, we said both teams are 0-0. Just go with it and just take one game at a time.”

Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS