By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
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Eagles repeated as city champions with a 4-3 victory over Hi-Tech on Thursday night on the strength of Tanner Price's two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“That was a sweet piece of quality hitting in the clutch,” Eagles manager Rob Merritt said.
Hi-Tech manager Jason Seibel also was impressed with the championship game.
“It was awesome, both teams played as hard as they could and it was a fun to be part of such a good game,” Seibel said.
Each squad came away empty after the first inning, with both teams stranding runners in scoring position.
Hi-Tech missed out in the top of the first inning when shortstop Tyler Bowen was stranded at second base after doubling to straightaway center field with one out.
Hard-throwing Eagles pitcher Brody Merritt ended the Hi-Tech threat with two quick strikeouts.
Hi-Tech's lefty starter Slater Bradley fanned Eagles speedy leadoff hitter Isaiah Getchell, then allowed walks to Merritt and Milo Whitman.
The pair advanced to second and third base on a wild pitch, but were left stranded when Bradley found the strike zone to rack up strikeouts against Damen Ringold and Price.
“We lost half the team from last year and picked up six new guys and you could tell from the start we were very, very nervous,” Merritt said.
“We were just trying to settle them down and let them know it was okay.
“I told these guys, everybody thinks we're going to beat up on them, and it ain't going to happen, its going to be tough to win and the reason we are both here is pitching, we both have it.”
Both pitchers cruised the second inning, each striking out the side with ease.
Hi-Tech put the game's first run on the board with one out in the third inning.
No. 9 hitter Brandon Hiser bunted and advanced to second when Merritt made an error on the throw to first base.
Landon Seibel found himself in an 0-2 against Merritt but worked the count to 3-2, then popped the ball up to right field where it was juggled and dropped.
Hi-Tech's Tyler Bowen then fouled off a pitch between first base and home plate but neither Eagles catcher Whitman nor first baseman Sean Hanrahan called out to make the play — and the ball dropped for a strike.
On the next pitch, Bowen belted his second double of the game, this time to right field to score Hiser and give Hi-Tech a 1-0 lead.
Merritt ended the threat with two strikeouts, stranding Seibel at third and Bowen at second.
Eagles rallied in its half of the third inning, with Garritt McNally and Getchell walking aboard and advancing to second and third on a Bradley wild pitch.
Whitman notched the Eagles' first hit, an infield single that scored McNally.
A throw to third base caught Getchell in a rundown between home and third, but he was able to get back to the bag.
A Bradley wild pitch later plated Getchell in a close play at the plate to put Eagles up 2-1.
Merritt retired the Hi-Tech side on eight pitches in the fourth inning, keeping his pitch count below the Cal Ripken-maximum of 85.
After Bradley reached his 85 pitches, Bowen took over on the mound for Hi-Tech to start the fourth inning.
Eagles pushed the lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth when Price curved a two-out, two-run double down the left-field line that brought home Whitman and Ringold.
Hi-Tech mounted a last-at-bat rally in the top of the sixth inning.
Merritt entered the inning at 84 pitches and allowed a single to Bowen through the gap between third and shor, Bowen's third hit of the game in three plate appearances.
“He was awesome at bat, and he pitched pretty well, too,” Seibel said of Bowen.
Bowen impressed the Eagles manager as well.
“He's a little stud,” Merritt said.
“I think he's figuring out, 'Yeah, I can play this game pretty well and I'm as talented as anybody else out here.' ”
Having reached his pitch limit, Merritt moved over to shortstop after striking out 12, walking none and allowing one run on three hits — all to Bowen.
“I thought he did a good job,” Rob Merritt said of his son.
“He had eight days of rest because he had been pitching some complete games to close the regular season.
“Normally, we'd have him throw a little bullpen session to keep him loose but I told him I'd rather have his arm a little live than dead for this one.”
Due to a Cal Ripken League rule that doesn't allow catchers who have caught more than 40 pitches in a game to also pitch in the same game, Price, the Eagles No. 3 pitcher, came on.
He then ran up a 3-0 count to the first batter he faced, Hi-Tech's Bradley.
Bradley swatted the next pitch, a two-run homer to straightaway center field to cut the lead to 4-3 Eagles.
Price then sat Hi-Tech cleanup hitter Aaron Watkins down with a strikeout and got a ground out to third from Kylan Schied.
Hi-Tech wasn't done yet, as Tanner Walker poked a two-out single to right field, followed by an infield single by Kameron Meadows.
Hi-Tech couldn't complete the from worst-to-first-place storyline — they finished in last place in 2013 — as Price struck out first-year Majors players John Vaara to close out the game and earn the save.
The teams celebrated their seasons after the contest, with Eagles opting for cupcakes and Hi-Tech players feasting on cake and cookies.