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The first big Toledo Area Athletic Conference baseball battle of the season turned into a race with fading daylight on Thursday at Ottawa Hills.
In a game that seemed destined to be suspended because of darkness, visiting Cardinal Stritch scored two runs on three hits in the top of the 11th inning and held on for a 5-3 victory against the Green Bears.
Stritch (3-0, 1-0 TAAC) and Ottawa Hills (0-6, 0-1) were picked 1-2 in a preseason poll of conference coaches.
The Cardinals’ Chase Dearing led off the 11th with a single to center, advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Adam Buenrostro, and scored on leadoff hitter Robert Johnson’s sharp single to center for what proved to be the winning run against Green Bears relief pitcher Parker Riepenhoff.
Johnson went to second on the throw home, moved to third on Jude Neary’s groundout to first, then scored an insurance run on a passed ball by Ottawa Hills catcher Jake Swafford.
PHOTO GALLERY: Cardinal Stritch defeats Ottawa Hills
Those runs made a winning pitcher of Stritch’s Sean Killian, who had a relief outing that turned into more of a full game.
“This was only our third game of the year, and we had two scrimmages,” Stritch coach Craig Meinzer said. “The guys are still trying to figure out what we need to do to compete, but we did come through when we needed to in the 11th. We finally got comfortable in the batter’s box.
“We knew it was going to get dark real quick, and we thought we were only going to get one more inning. I’d hate to have both of us burn up pitchers only to have to come back on another day to finish it.”
Killian, who relieved Cards starter Brooks Gasser with one out in the Ottawa Hills half of the fifth inning, worked 6 1/3 innings, throwing 96 pitches (53 strikes). He allowed only one hit, walking three batters and hitting three others while striking out five.
“I didn’t expect us to play almost two games, and I was just really nervous,” Killian said. “This is one of the best teams in our league, and I was just hoping not to screw up.
“I was ecstatic we finally scored [in 11th]. I was thinking nobody was going to score, and we were just going to go until dark. This is a big win for us.”
With two out in the bottom of the 11th, Killian walked R.J. Coil and hit pinch-hitter Ellis Cummings with a pitch. Austin Pratt entered in relief and, after throwing the wild pitch to put the runners at second and third, struck out Eric Gross to end the game.
“I figured that [11th] was going to be the last inning for sure,” Ottawa Hills coach Chris Hardman said. “Stritch deserved to win the game because they came out in the top of the 11th and got three hits.
“The good news is, we did OK, and we’re going to get better. And we’ll probably see them two more times.”
Ottawa Hills had taken a 1-0 lead in the fourth on an RBI single by Ben Silverman that scored Swafford. Stritch tied the game in the fifth, when Gasser scored on a dropped fly ball by Green Bears center fielder Noah Hupp.
The Green Bears added two runs in the fifth after chasing Gasser, with Swafford delivering a two-run double to left-center, and the Cardinals rallied for a 3-3 tie with two runs in the sixth. One scored on Killian’s RBI single to right-center and the other on a wild pitch.