One day after blowing a six-run lead en route to a brutal 10-8 loss to Muskogee Three Rivers that pushed them to the brink of elimination, the Ada Post 72 Braves showed their resiliency with a pair of victories Friday at the American Legion State Tournament.
The Braves, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, beat old rival Ardmore, 14-13, in a wild elimination contest to start the day, then they came back with a surprisingly easy 12-2 run-rule victory over the third-seeded Edmond Stars Friday evening.
With the two wins, Ada improved to 27-17 on the season while joining Three Rivers and the defending state champion Oklahoma Outlaws from Midwest City in the tournament’s final three.
And despite continuing their recent postseason offensive explosion (74 runs in six playoff contests, including 55 in four state tournament games), the Braves used a pair of clutch performances on the mound Friday to stave off elimination.
With his pitching staff stretched to the limit after a pair of marathon games to open the week, Post 72 coach Travis Graham turned to little-used righty Jesse Cashman to finish off a see-saw affair in the victory over Ardmore. Cashman, a former standout at Ada and Roff making just his second mound appearance of the summer, responded with two perfect innings, and Hunter Marcum delivered a one-out, walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 10th to seal the Braves’ fifth straight win over Adrmore this season.
Against Edmond, Graham handed the ball to former Coalgate ace David Cagle, who had taken the loss in relief against Three Rivers less than 24 hours earlier.
Cagle came through with arguably his best effort in a Post 72 uniform, scattering five hits in a gutsy complete-game effort to provide a badly-needed respite for an Ada pitching staff that had surrendered 38 runs and 52 hits in three tournament games to that point.
Even with the two victories Friday, the Braves faced a tough road over the weekend. They played Three Rivers — a 15-3 loser to the Outlaws in Friday’s nightcap — in an elimination game at 5 p.m. Saturday for a shot at the Outlaws — the team that beat Ada to claim the 2009 Legion state title — immediately afterward. If they survived those two tests, the Braves would still have to beat the Outlaws in an “if-necessary” championship game today at 2 p.m.
Ada Post 72 Braves 14, Ardmore Cardinals 13
Tanner Bell — whose leadoff home run in the eighth had completed an Ada comeback from deficits of 5-0, 6-1, 12-8 and 13-10 and sent the game to extra innings — drew the first of three walks to start the 10th, and after an Ardmore error loaded the bases, he scored on the single to left by Marcum, his former Purcell High teammate.
Jared Sterling’s two-run base hit was one of six singles by Ardmore in the top of the first off Ada starter Tyler Porter as the Cardinals raced to a 5-0 lead, and Ardmore offset a leadoff homer by Saulyer Saxon in the bottom of the first with a run in the top of the second to again build a five-run lead.
Ada roared back to take the lead with seven runs in the bottom of the second. Matt Johnson, who had just one home run when the state tournament began but hit three in Friday’s two wins, started the rally with a solo blast, and Bell and Blake Logan added two-run doubles later in the inning.
Ardmore (which finished the season 18-18) came back to take the lead with three runs in the top of the third, and the Cardinals added a run in the fourth and two more in the fifth to build a 12-8 advantage. Logan’s two-run homer in the sixth pulled Ada to within a run at 13-11, and after the Braves scored an unearned run in the seventh, Bell tied it with his blast over the fence in right in the bottom of the eighth.
Porter and the second Ada pitcher, Blake Wheat, lasted just two innings apiece, then Rhett Acker came on in the fifth and allowed three runs in four innings to allow the Braves to claw their way back in the game. Cashman recorded six fly-ball outs in his two innings of work.
“It’s hard to come and play well when you play as poorly as we did (Thursday),” Graham said. “Our morale was kind of low. When Saulyer hit that home run in the first inning, it kind of set the tone for the offense, but our pitchers had a hard time getting confidence.
“(Cashman) throws strikes, and he doesn’t look like the other guys we had thrown,” he added. “He came in and got six outs when we needed them.”
Ardmore outhit Ada, 20-12, with Bell and Logan recording two hits and four RBIs apiece and Johnson and Saxon each adding two hits and two RBIs in the win. Jacob Carter had a huge game for the Ardmore, going 5-for-6 with a home run, two doubles, four runs scored and four RBIs.
Ada Braves 12, Edmond Stars 2
Landon Halman, who finished with three of Edmond’s five hits, gave the Stars — 16-1 winners over Ardmore Wednesday — a 2-0 lead with a solo home run in the second inning and RBI double in the third, but it was all Ada the rest of the way.
Johnson hit a game-tying two-run homer and Nolan Fanning added an RBI single in a three-run fourth-inning rally that gave the Braves the lead for good, Tim Wallen’s fourth home run of the postseason — a solo shot in the fifth — made it 4-2, and Johnson’s three-run shot blast the big blow in a four-run sixth-inning rally that put Ada up 8-2.
The Braves added a run in the seventh, then their fourth home run of the game — a walkoff three-run shot by Ryan Stoup following a walk to Wallen and Johnson’s double — ended the game on the run rule.
While the Ada offense was cranking out 15 hits, Cagle kept the Stars off balance, allowing just two hits over the final five innings. He finished with seven strikeouts and four walks to improve to 3-5 on the season.
“He usually pitches pretty well when he’s kind of tired,” Graham said of Cagle. “We’re in a situatio where it’s play good or go home, and we couldn’t have done that today without Cagle.”
Johnson, a former star at Asher High School, capped his career day with four hits (two home runs, a double and a single) and five RBIs, and Stoup, Saxon, Wallen and Marcum added two hits apiece for the Braves in the win.