By BEN JOHNSON
Ben Stacey suffered through a nightmare in the fourth inning. He had three errors to his credit while Tahlequah committed four as a team.
But the junior shortstop atoned for his miscues, delivering a game-winning single to right field in the bottom of the seventh inning to help Tahlequah escape with a 5-4 victory over Inola on Thursday afternoon.
“He saved himself just by coming up with that big hit,” Tahlequah coach Nick Zodrow said of Stacey. “To his credit, he didn’t let the fourth and fifth innings dictate what he did right there.”
Tahlequah also rode the right arm of Brock Mitchell, who gave up four runs (two earned) on seven hits to pick up the victory.
“He threw 87 pitches and really should have thrown a complete game under 70 pitches,” Zodrow said of Mitchell, who struck out three while walking none. “He threw a lot of strikes, and defensively we let ourselves down.
“But he just kept throwing strikes, and that’s his maturity.”
Mitchell retired the final eight Inola hitters he faced, setting the stage for Tahlequah to win in the final frame.
And that’s preciously how it played out.
Colby Brittain started things off in the seventh by reaching base on a fielding error, but he was quickly cut down on a stolen-base attempt. But an Austin Riley double followed by an intentional walk to Houston Glad set the stage for Stacey to win the game.
After Marcus Cordle struck out, Stacey worked the count until it was 2-2. Then he hit the ball to the opposite field, and the ball was bobbled by Inola right fielder Colton McCormick, allowing Riley to score from second.
Climbing back to the .500 mark at 6-6, Tahlequah — now on a five-game winning streak — busted out of the gate on Glad’s three-run home run to left field. But following that is when the Tigers’ offense bogged down.
“That first inning, we were tattooing the ball and hitting it to the left side,” Zodrow said, “and we wanted to pull everything, instead of hitting the ball the other way. That meant we sat on those three runs for the rest of the game. We just have to be better offensively.”
Inola (7-6) tied the game in the bottom of the fifth inning on Nick Ariaz’s bloop single to shallow right field. Garrett Glass scored when the ball dropped in between three Tahlequah fielders.
Tahlequah threatened to take the lead in the home half of the fifth, but a lead-off double by Brittain and a single by Riley were negated by two ground-ball outs, followed by Stacey flying out to short.
Inola stranded six runners on base, including five that were in scoring position.
Glass pitched a complete game for the Longhorns while being saddled with the loss. All five runs given up by the junior hurler were earned. He also issued seven hits while striking out five.
Tahlequah will play at Jay on Friday afternoon.