Hammond coughs up lead, but recovers, tops Fallston

After giving up 4-0 lead, Bears rally for four runs in 6th inning for 9-7 win


March 31, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

First-year Hammond baseball coach Mike Lerner isn't naive. He knows his team -- which graduated five players last year who now play Division I college baseball -- is going to have the occasional rocky inning this season.

But the key, he has stressed, is to play baseball with a boxer's mentality. If you get stunned, don't stand there. Hit 'em right back.

The strategy worked perfectly yesterday as the No. 14 Golden Bears came from behind to knock off visiting Fallston, 9-7, to win the 2002 Hammond Invitational Tournament.

Hammond, which blew a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning, scored four runs with two outs in the bottom of sixth inning to earn the win, improving its record to 4-0. Fallston dropped to 2-1.

"So far this season, we've really been able to answer when teams score on us," said Lerner, whose team advanced to the championship game with a 23-5 victory over Meade. "Every game we've played all year long, I felt like it could have all gone either way. But our biggest strength has been our ability to respond after a bad inning."

That bad inning turned out to be the fifth, as the Golden Bears committed four errors, walked a batter and threw a wild pitch. Before the fifth, Hammond pitcher Marcus Anders was having a stellar day, having given up only three hits to go with a bases-empty home run in the third inning.

But the opportunistic Cougars, who advanced to the championship game with a 9-3 win over Meade, rattled Anders with a slew of sharply hit ground balls, scoring six runs to take a 6-4 lead thanks in part to RBI singles by Sandy Walsch and Chris Tolliver.

Things didn't look good for the Golden Bears in the sixth after Brandon Briggs and Jeff Tobin quickly made the first two outs of the inning. But Hammond's two best hitters, Adam Heffron and Joey Benedetti, smacked clutch singles to start the rally. Bobby Miller knocked both of them in with an opposite-field single, just his second hit of the year, and Alan Koch homered off Mike May to put a capper on the offensive outburst.

"In that situation, I just know that I've got to get on base because I've got Joe Benedetti behind me, and he's one of the best hitters in our county," Heffron said. "Bobby's hit was huge. We hadn't had our 3-4-5 hitters click together like that in awhile, and it was a great time to break out."

Said Koch: "I was just up there looking for a strike to take a cut at. He threw a couple balls early in the at-bat, but he put one over the plate and fortunately I was able to drive it."

Fallston didn't roll over from there, scoring a run in the seventh on consecutive singles by Dan Przybylski, Tim Smith and Kevin Keller, but Benedetti, who earned the win in relief, was able to close out the Cougars with a series of off-speed pitches.

The tournament victory was plenty satisfying for the Golden Bears, a team many expected to struggle this year after losing four All-Metro players to graduation. But it hasn't happened thus far, as Anders has pitched well enough to keep Hammond in games, and the hitting has been fairly impressive as well.

"I think a lot of people overlooked us because they saw all the starters we lost," Heffron said. "But they didn't realize we had a lot of guys on our bench who could have started for just about any other team that had to wait their turn. They're getting a chance to play now and showing what they can do."

Said Lerner: "Our offense hasn't really been hitting on all cylinders like I'd like it to, but we had a couple big at-bats from our seniors in the clutch that helped make the difference."

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