9th inning squeeze lifts Vanguard past Faulkner 5-4

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (faulknereagles.com) – Kevin Bettencourt’s squeeze bunt in the bottom of the ninth scored Shane Elias-Calles with the winning run as Vanguard (Calif.) nipped Faulkner 5-4 here Thursday night in the NAIA Baseball Championship Opening Round at Harrison Field.

With one out, Elias-Calles singled off Faulkner’s Ivan Pelaez, who had masterfully retired the previous 11 Vanguard batters. Faulkner head coach Patrick McCarthy turned to Miguel Castellanos, who coaxed Matt Harris into a deep fly ball to left. Darrius Jennings lost the ball in the lights, and it bounced on the warning track and over the wall for a ground-rule double. Dylan Ramie was intentionally walked to load the bases, setting the stage for the dramatic ending.

With the Vanguard win, the Faulkner Bracket now moves to an IF NECESSARY game Friday morning for the championship. The first pitch is scheduled for 9. The loss dropped the Eagles to 48-13.

Vanguard (40-16-1) built a four-run lead, thanks in part to three unearned runs, but Faulkner scored runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to draw to within 4-3. Then, in the top of the ninth against Lion closer Michael Jordan, the Eagles’ Dennis Morton powered a fastball over the center-field wall to tie it.

Both teams were held hitless until the fourth. Brandon Sandoval singled, stole second and was sacrificed to third on Paul Keating’s bunt. Brock Wissman’s sinking liner to right was caught by Faulkner’s Nick Cain, but his throw to the plate was not in time to cut down Sandoval for the game’s first run.

Faulkner threatened in the fifth. Dario Polanco doubled to left with one out, followed but what appeared to be a ground ball single to center from Dennis Morton. Lion shortstop Jose Rojas ranged deep into the hole behind second, turned and threw out Morton at first for the second out. Polanco never stopped rounding third and was thrown out at the plate on a perfect throw  from Matt Harris to end the inning.

The Lions added to their lead in their half of the inning. Justin Vega singled. He was forced at second on a sacrifice attempt, but an errant throw to first allowed Matt Harris to make it all the way to second. Dylan Ramie then reached on Morton’s error at third and, one out later, Sandoval singled in a run for a 2-0 lead. After Keating walked, Eissman singled sharply to right to plate two more and push the advantage to 4-0.

The Eagles got on the board in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Alexis Cruz but, with two on and only one out, couldn’t scratch out anymore. Faulkner did draw closer in the seventh, with pinch hitter Deivy Palmeiro’s RBI single off of reliever Michael Ostrea trimming the margin to 4-2. With runners at the corners and two outs, Onix Martinez was picked off to end the inning.

Faulkner added another single run in the eighth. David Palenzuela’s double put runners at second and third with one out, and T.J. Condon’s groundout scored a run to make it 4-3. With two outs, however, Mario Amaral’s grounder hit pinch runner Brandon Suttles to end the inning, sending the game to the decisive ninth.

Polanco had two hits for the Eagles, while Sandoval had two for the Lions.