Indianapolis — In yet another one-run ball game, the Lebanon Merchants advanced to the Midwest Prospects League title game with a 7-6 victory against the Indy Braves.
It was the fourth-straight win and fifth game overall for the Merchants to be settled by one run.
Lebanon scored single runs in the first, second, third and fourth innings to take a 4-1 lead.
They nearly added to the lead in the fifth, but Ty Foster was thrown out at home to end the inning.
The Braves scored three times in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game and neither team scored in the sixth.
Lebanon couldn’t have asked for a better start in the seventh, drawing two walks on nine pitches.
“We had our guys taking a pitch to get a strike and you typically do that in the final inning of a close game,” Lebanon manager Ron Ebert said. “We really wanted to beat these guys straight up.”
Two batters later, Brandon Dale singled to load the bases.
Ryan McPike reclaimed the lead for the Merchants with a 2-run double, then Derek White singled home another run to make it 7-4.
“We have done that this whole tournament,” Ebert said of the clutch hitting. “The first game we only had six hits, but the ones we got we stuck really well. Last night (a 12-11 win against Bedford) we hit the ball well and we did that today too. We had some walks and we were able to score them in bunches. And again it came down to the last out.”
The Merchants ran into problems in the bottom of the seventh. Indy loaded the bases with two singles off starter Tyler Koon and a walk by reliever Brad Rist.
After a line out, Rist gave up a walk and a single to make the score 7-6.
But with the game on the line, the Braves batter hit a tapper right in front on home plate. Lebanon catcher Tyler Hampton grabbed the ball, tagged the runner coming in from third, then gunned it to first to complete the game-saving double play.
“It was terrific,” Ebert said. “The ball bounced off the plate and high in the air and came down, caught the ball in fair territory, tagged the guy coming home then had the presence of mind to throw to first base and double him up. They had the winning run on second base.”
Koon pitched six strong innings for the win, giving up six runs. Rist got the save.
“Tyler wanted to finish it out – he is a gamer,” Ebert said. “He comes out here ready to pitch and he wants the ball every night. He wanted to go last night and we didn’t tell him he was going today until right before game time. We thought he would be more effective. He wanted him charged up and coming out here wanting the ball. He gave us a good six innings.
The game was played under protest because the Braves used an illegal player in the game. League rules state that a player must play in five regular season games to play in the playoffs.
The Braves used a player making his summer debut. The protest didn’t have any effect on Saturday’s game, but it made the Braves forfeit the rest of the tournament, meaning the Merchants will play the Bedford Stars for the tournament title Sunday at Lebanon’s Memorial Park (1 p.m.).
The Stars, the No. 1 seed, must beat the Merchants twice to win the title. Lebanon only has to win once.
“We have to have to go against Bedford again and they are a good ball team,” Ebert said. “It is going to be a battle until the end. They are going to have to beat us twice, but I don’t want us going in thinking ‘oh we can lose the first one and then get them in game two.’ They will be ready to go, and our guys are charged up ready to go.”