By Will Willems Sports Editor
---- — Lebanon — The Lebanon Merchants were in desperate need of a win Wednesday night in the regular season finale.
Thanks to left-handed ace Collin Armold they got just that. Armold held the Midwest Tomahawks to two runs in a complete game effort, and the Merchants clinched the No. 1 seed with a 3-2 win.
Armold was even questionable to start the game after coming down with a case of poison ivy Friday that landed him in the hospital for a period of time over the weekend.
“Collin gave us exactly what the doctor ordered,” Lebanon assistant coach Steve Spolyar said. “He needed to go deep for us. He gave us nine great innings of baseball. He should be able to go again in the tourney.”
The Merchants have been in first place for the entire season and entered the weekend needing just one win in their final five games to clinch the No. 1 seed.
But they dropped all four games of two double-headers during the weekend setting up a final game against the Tomahawks that would determine the top seed.
Spolyar said it was nice to see the effort Wednesday after having a rough weekend.
“This weekend, we really struggled,” the assistant said. “We knew heading into the weekend that we just needed to win one to clinch the No. 1 seed, but unfortunately ran into two good teams that took it right to us. Things were looking kind of bleak, but the guys came out and really played good baseball. We made the plays, got a great pitching performance from Collin Armold and got some clutch hits.”
Neither team got much going in the first five innings.
The Merchants were held to just three hits and never had multiple runners on in any inning.
The Tomahawks weren’t fairing much better against Armold, registering just two hits. The visitors had the best scoring chance of the opening innings in the second when they put runners on first and second with two outs, but Armold induced a weak grounder to first to end the inning.
Midwest struck for the games first run in the sixth. With two outs, Armold walked the Tomahawks No. 2 hitter. Back-to-back singles followed to give the visitors the 1-0 lead.
The Merchants wasted little time in responding. Marco Caponi led off the inning with a single and two batters later Jason Wuerfel hit him home to tie the game at 1.
After Midwest reclaimed the lead in the seventh inning, the Merchants again responded. An RB-single by Nick Barrientos tied the game at 2, then Ty Foster hit the go-ahead double to put the Merchants ahead for the first time all game.
“It is really important in any baseball game that when the other team scores, you have to respond,” Spolyar said. “Our confidence was shook a little bit coming in from the weekend, but the guys continued to play hard and responded when they needed too. Should be a great spring board heading into the tournament on Friday.”
The lead was enough for Armold, who gave up a one-out double in the eighth, but retired six of the final seven batters.
The Merchants finished the regular season 16-7 and will host the league tournament starting Friday.
Lebanon’s first game will be at 5:30 p.m. at Memorial Park against the winner of the Franklin Cougars and Bloomington Stars (who play at 10 a.m. Friday). Those are the two teams that beat Lebanon in double headers last weekend.
“The first game is key,” Spolyar said. “We are going to throw Travis Herrin and he has had a great year for us. Winning the first game is huge, you don’t want to lose early and then have to fight through the losers’ bracket.”
All games are free of charge and will be played at Lebanon Friday through Sunday.