GALION — Following three days off for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s All-Star break, the Galion Graders returned to Heddleson Field in Heise Park to begin a three-game stint with the visiting St. Clair Green Giants.
Kicking off their final home series of the 2019 season, the Graders found themselves trailing after three innings; 4-0. However, Galion was able to storm back after holding the Green Giants’ offense at bay in the top of the fourth.
In the home half of that fourth inning, Joseph Watts got the rally started with a lead-off single. DeVonte Washington proceeded to flyout to right field for the first out in the frame before JP Bitzenhofer drew a walk to put runners at first and second. The next batter, Steven D’Eusanio would single to load the bases and send Austin Harper to the dish. Harper wasted little time getting Galion on the scoreboard as he doubled on an 0-1 pitch to drive in both Watts and Bitzenhofer and move D’Eusanio to third. With two runners in scoring position and two runs already across the plate, Ryan Strittmather stepped in and sent a fly ball to center. Although Strittmather’s knock was caught, D’Eusanio scored on the sacrifice fly to draw the score to 4-3. With two outs, Bryce Ray ripped a single that scored Harper to tie the contest with Ray taking second base on the throw. Andrew Sharp would belt the Graders second double of the inning, scoring Ray and giving Galion their first lead at 5-4 before Sean McLaughlin flew out to left field for the third out.
St. Clair responded in the top of the fifth, plating a run on three hits but stranding two runners at first and second base. With the score back even, Watts led-off the home fifth by going down on strikes. Washington would then walk, followed by a Bitzenhofer single to put two on for the home squad. D’Eusanio came through with another hit, this time a double, to score Washington and move Bitzenhofer to third thus reclaiming the lead for Galion at 6-5. The Graders were far from finished in the fifth though as Harper singled in both runners to stretch the Graders’ lead further at 8-5. Strittmather and Ray would record the second and third outs, respectively, in the inning, stranding Harper at second.
The contest continued on in similar fashion in the sixth as the Green Giants saw Jayden Sinju rip a two-run home run that reduced the home team’s lead to 8-7. Galion went down in order in the bottom of the inning, keeping their advantage at just one run.
Scoring would then pick back up in the seventh, starting with a three-run top of the inning from the visitors. Things could’ve been much worse for the Graders in the top of the frame but they were able to record the third out thanks to a Trey Bame strikeout, forcing St. Clair to strand runners at first and second. Following a Washington groundout to the pitcher, Bitznehofer reached first via his second drawn walk of the game. Thanks to an error by the opposing pitcher, Bitzenhofer would eventually make his way all the way to third base while Garrett Kuns was walked to put runners at the corners with just one out. Another walk later, this time to Harper, loaded the bases for Strittmather, who would flyout to left for out number two. With the bases still juiced, Ray singled in Bitzenhofer and moved everyone up a bag to keep the bases loaded for the home team with two outs. Sharp would single in Kuns while keeping the bases loaded before McLaughlin walked to score Harper. Now up by a score of 11-10, Watts went down on strikes to end the threat with the Graders leaving runners on every base.
A sloppy top of the eighth for the Graders led to another run scoring for the visitors that tied the score up at 11 runs apiece. Galion was unable to get any offense going in the bottom of the frame even though they left the bases loaded yet again despite no hits in their trip to the plate. Neither team would record a hit in the ninth but both squads stranded a runner apiece.
Jared Pingitore would single with one out in the top of the 10th for the Green Giants but would be left at first to send the Graders up in the bottom of the extra frame. Bitzenhofer wasted no time getting a rally started for the home squad as he ripped his second double of the game on the first pitch that he saw from St. Clair reliever Aidan Massad. On Massad’s very next offering, hometown hero Kuns belted a single that would score Bitzenhofer and give Galion the 12-11, walk-off victory.
James Kontur started for the Graders on the hill and went 5⅓ innings, allowing nine hits and seven earned runs while walking three and striking out five. Gavin Lewis came on in relief and pitched one inning, gave up two earned runs and recorded a walk and a strikeout. Bame tossed the next 1⅔ for Galion, allowing four hits and two earned runs while walking a batter and picking up three strikeouts. Christopher Punka would earn the win on the hill, tossing the final two innings for the home team, allowing just one hit while fanning four.
Offensive statistics for the Graders in the win were: Team- 15/41, 12R, 12RBI, 10BB, 9K, 5-2B; Ray- 2-1B, R, 2RBI; Sharp- 2-1B, 2B, 2RBI; McLaughlin- RBI; Watts- 1B, R; Washington- R; Bitzenhofer- 2-2B, 1B, 4R; D’Eusanio- 1B, 2B, 2R, RBI; Kuns- 1B, R, RBI; Harper- 2-1B, 2B, 2R, 4RBI and Strittmather- RBI.
St. Clair plated their 11 runs on 14 hits, left 13 runners on base and committed three errors in the field as they fell to 17-18 with the loss. Galion scored 12 runs on 15 hits, also stranded 13 on the bases and had just one miscue as they improved their overall record to 9-26 with the victory.
The Graders hosted the Green Giants on Friday and will wrap their series on Saturday, July 20. Galion will travel to Montgomery Field in Celina on Sunday for their first game of a three-game series with the hosting Grand Lake Mariners on Sunday afternoon. On a rare Monday contest, the Graders will host those same Mariners before wrapping their regular season schedule on the road once again in Celina.
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