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Hawks get upper hand in playoffs

May 18, 2008|By TIM KOELBLE

Spencer Cromer rode the margin for error thinner than the thinnest fiber optic line.

Through nine arduous innings, the freshman right-hander and Hagerstown Community College pulled out a roller-coaster 5-4 victory over Pitt (N.C.) Community College in the opening game of the best-of-3 NJCAA Division I Eastern District baseball finals on Saturday.

Cromer, a South Hagerstown graduate, finished his complete-game win with the help of back-to-back catches by right fielder Charles Johnson to end the game.

The victory gave the Hawks (39-16) the advantage, needing one victory to gain a spot in the NJCAA Division I World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., May 24-31. HCC faces Pitt (40-14) at 11 a.m. today with a deciding game to follow, if needed.

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"To get the first win is as big as it can be because we know that (Pitt) is capable of putting together wins," said HCC coach Scott Jennings. The Bulldogs had won the Region X title last week with six wins in five days after a first-round loss.

Cromer, who retired the side in order in the first, was in constant trouble for the next six innings. He allowed 10 hits and five walks but retired the last eight Pitt batters after falling behind 4-3 in the sixth.

"He was one man on base away from coming out in the last two innings," said Jennings. "His pitch count was down. We kept asking how he felt and he said he was OK. Spencer has a lot of guts."

The Hawks kept Cromer in the game defensively with three double plays and Pitt left eight runners stranded. The Hawks' bats rallied for single runs in the seventh and eighth innings.

Cromer recorded his first complete game of the season by inducing an impatient trio of Bulldog hitters into three outs on five pitches in the ninth inning.

"I was surprised they were so anxious in the ninth," said Cromer, who managed only two strikeouts. "I thought the eighth inning was big after we got the lead. I started getting my fastball over and that set up my curve."

The Hawks did all their scoring after two outs.

In the seventh, David Zaminski drew a one-out walk and moved to second on Zach Smith's sacrifice. Matt Greene stroked a single to center for a 4-4 tie against Pitt ace lefty Jake Brown, who was 11-1.

Pitt coach Tommy Eason elected to use his strong bullpen and brought in righty Chip Wall in the eighth inning. Wall got the first two outs before Mike Knight singled and stole second.

Alex Stover fought off two pitches before ripping a liner past Pitt second baseman Logan Isaacs to score Knight with the winning run.

"The two fouls were pitches off the plate but I had to protect with two strikes," said Stover, a .239 hitter. "He came in with a curve over the plate and I adjusted."

HCC drew first blood in the top of the first when Greene opened the game with an infield hit to short, took second on a sacrifice and scored on Roland Thiele's two-out single.

Pitt took a 2-1 lead in the second on three walks, a fielder's choice off a near double play, and a single by Lucas Martin, who had three hits.

HCC regained the lead at 3-2 in the fourth when Stover was hit by a pitch with two outs. He took second on a wild pitch and third on a Johnson single. Zaminski produced a clutch two-RBI hit.

The Bulldogs strung together four hits in the sixth for a 4-3 lead before a nifty 6-3 double play bailed out Cromer.

"(HCC) did what they had to do to win," said Eason. "They advanced runners, got two-out hits and, in those cases, we didn't make good pitches. We had our opportunities but didn't execute. To win the first game is crucial. We just have to execute and come back. It's nothing new."

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