By Dan Flaherty
Sunday afternoon in Merton was a battle between Small Ball & Big Ball for 8 1/2 innings, and it was dead even, before Small Ball Merton came up with one big blow to walk off with an 8-7 win over Oconomowoc and drop the Five-O's to 6-2 overall and 2-2 in Land O'Lakes play.
The pitchers controlled the first two innings in a game that was fairly well-paced, even in the innings where runs were scored. Oconomowoc broke through first in the top of the third when Chandler Ziemann singled to right and was bunted into scoring position by Luke Nelson. Turns out Chandler was in scoring position all along because Jeff Rhoads came up and hit a homerun to dead center for a 2-0 lead.
Starting pitcher Chris Fischer took the lead into the fourth when defense failed the O's. Two errors and a strange play where a runner took a free base with the ball in the infield were grouped with three singles and it was 2-2 when the inning ended. Merton chipped away some more in the fifth, with another error, a walk and a hit batsmen enabled them to score twice more with just one hit - a two-out single to left.
With the score 4-2, the pitchers reassumed control until the seventh, and then it was Merton's turn to set the table for Oconomowoc. The O's got two runners on with an error and a walk and then Luke Nelson came up and deposited a 1-1 pitch over the left field fence.
A tense bottom of the seventh saw Merton get the first two runners on via the walk and then bunted both into scoring position. A big strikeout got Oconomowoc on the verge of getting out of the inning, but a two-out error plated both runners and gave the Amvets a 6-5 lead.
In the top of the eighth, catcher Josh Bouche came to the plate, and got ahead in the count. He turned on the next pitch and sent it skyrocketing northward. Officially it's in the books as a home run to right field. Unofficially we're confirming rumors that the ball violated Canadian airspace and created an international incident. Nate Osterndorf followed it up with a walk and a steal of second, but a fly out to left field ended the inning.
The back-and-forth joust of the late innings continued in the eighth. A hit batsmen, stolen base and sound execution by Merton to get the runner to third gave them a chance to break the 6-6 tie. With one out a single over the drawn-in infield once again put Oconomowoc on the brink. The score was still 7-6 in the top of the ninth and the Five-O's were down to their last out. Jeff Rhoads stood at the plate and sent a long fly ball to left field. The went off the outfield fence, but on its way there it hit an overhanging tree. According to Merton's own ground rules, any ball that catches any part of an overhanging tree is a home run, no questions asked. Improbably, instead of a man inscoring position, the O's had tied the game on their fourth home run of the afternoon.
At this point Merton was apparently tired of fighting and scrapping for runs only to see them wiped out with one swing. Pitcher Sam Mulkey lead off the inning. Since Mulkey had already worked all nine innings and thrown 172 pitches in the process, he was surely as anxious as anyone to finish this game, so he jumped on the first pitch and hit it over the left-centerfield fence. A back-and-forth game ended with an 8-7 Merton win.
Oconomowoc will play again Wednesday night at Horicon, where they are undefeated in Tri-County Night League action and then look to get back on track on LOL play at home on Sunday against West Bend.