The Eagles got the last laugh in a back-and-forth affair with Grayson County on Sunday, rallying offensively in extra innings while strong relief outings from sophomore Grayson Smith and junior Noah Cook helped them grab a 9-6 win and a spot in the 3rd Region Semifinals.
The chaotic beginning to the game started in the top of the second, as a one-out walk by senior catcher Aiden Wells led to courtesy runner Ross Milburn advancing to second on a pickoff error, stealing third and scoring on an error by the Cougars catcher to give Apollo an early 1-0 lead. After eighth grader Ty Lillpop reached first on a dropped third strike, a single by sophomore Garrett Lanham and a walk loaded the bases with one down—with a sac fly from junior Will Strode the ensuing at-bat making it a 2-0 game going into the bottom of the second.
But a trio of singles had Grayson County back in business in the bottom half of the inning, with one driving in a run and an error the following at-bat quickly tying things back at 2-2. Lillpop helped reclaim the lead for Apollo in the top of the third with a two-out two-run triple, but the Cougars weren’t going away, cutting their deficit to 4-3 with a one-out RBI double.
The Eagles got a pair of insurance runs on a sacrifice fly from senior Josh Mayes and a two-out single from sophomore Sam Holder in the top of the fourth, but an error, RBI single and a passed ball plated a run each in the bottom half of the inning and brought things back to an even 6-6 ballgame.
The game then hit a stalemate, as neither team could muster up offense for multiple innings—especially on the Eagles end with Smith and Cook. Grayson struck out the side in the fifth, with Cook taking over after a leadoff walk in the bottom of the sixth by striking out the side and then collecting two more in a quick bottom of the seventh.
It was then in the top of the eighth that the scoreless streak snapped, as an error on a pop-up to second by Lanham cracked the door open. Smith then busted it down, following his relief appearance with a clutch RBI single up the middle to give Apollo a 7-6 lead in the top of the eighth.
Another error and a flyout followed, with Smith later scored on a wild pitch and a sac fly from junior Easton Blandford extending the Eagles lead to 9-6. Cook then slammed the door shut once again, grabbing back-to-back strikeouts to start the inning and a groundout to earn the 9-6 win and send Apollo on to the next round.
Noah earned the win in his three innings of relief, allowing just one hit while striking out seven. Lillpop led the way at the plate with a 2-4 day and a pair of RBIs, while Strode, Mayes, Blandford, Holder and Smith all had an RBI each.
Apollo will have their hands full again on Monday though, as it will be a battle of the Eagles at Vastwood Park with a 3rd Region Semifinals bout with Ohio County set for 8:30 p.m.