RACHEL – In a North-West rivalry showdown that went down to the wire, Fairmont Senior’s Kyle Brubaker finished the game with a chef’s kiss for the Polar Bears by delivering the go-ahead RBI double in the top of the seventh to break a 3-3 tie and a 5-3 victory over the Huskies on Thursday at North Marion High.
“It was a huge win,” said Brubaker, FSHS’s No. 3 hitter. “We came out with a lot of energy and we knew it was going to be a tough game in that they’re ranked and definitely a better team than we’ve seen in the past couple of years. It was a big game all around — a big game for sectionals, a big game for rankings — and it puts our name up there for sure.”
Brubaker’s clutch double in the top of the seventh, which he smacked down the third base line, brought home the game-deciding run from second base for the Polar Bears after designated hitter Gavin Hissam got a runner on by beating out a throw for a lead-off single. And then one batter later, junior shortstop Gavin Blair dinged an RBI double of his own to bring Brubaker home and add an insurance run to make it 5-3 heading into the Huskies’ last stand in the bottom of the seventh.
“It feels amazing, one of the best feelings you can have in this sport. Just to come through for the team and see everyone pick you up after, it’s definitely one of the best feelings,” Brubaker said. “I was sitting on the fast ball hoping to get something to drive and I was just trying to foul off curve balls and it ended up working out with a line drive right over the third baseman’s head.
“It just happened to work out. It’s hard to explain. But I just came through and it was big.”
Once Brubaker and Blair got Fairmont Senior (5-2) a two-run lead heading into the bottom half of the seventh, Polar Bears sophomore pitcher Gunner Riley locked down the victory for West side collecting his three outs over four North Marion (6-4) batters, including a pair of strikeouts. It was the punctuation mark on a brilliant day for Riley on the mound overall after he came on in relief of FSHS freshman starter Sammy Viani in the the bottom of the fifth and allowed just two hits and two walks versus eight strikeouts over three full frames of work.
“I thought he did a nice job — he threw pretty hard and he had a great curveball,” North Marion coach Vic Securro said of Riley. “He obviously kept us off balance.”
Riley, who came on in the bottom of the fifth with a runner on after Viani surrendered an opening-inning walk, initially appeared headed for disaster in his relief appearance, as he allowed back-to-back hits, including an RBI double, and a walk the first three batters he faced. The allowed RBI double tied the game at 3-3, and the ensuing walk thereafter loaded the bases for North Marion with zero outs.
And from that point forward, Riley transformed into a sparkling ace on the hill for the Polar Bears, as he strutted his stuff, including his wicked curve ball, and mowed right through the Huskies. He got out of the zero-outs, bases-loaded jam in the fifth with a string of three consecutive strikeouts across NMHS’s Nos. 5, 6 and 7 hitters, and then he ran his consecutive Ks streak to six one inning later. Finally, in the seventh, he struck out North’s Nos. 2 and 3 hitters for his seventh and eighth straight strikeouts, before finishing off the win by coaxing a flyout to center field with a runner on.
“We had the bases loaded there in the fifth with no outs and I felt we should’ve scored a couple of runs there,” Securro said. “He had several batters 3-2 and (Riley) would throw his curveball over and we’re sitting there watching it. We didn’t do our job with the curveball — he was getting it in there for strikes and we were sitting there fooled by it. We got to do a better job against the off speed and the breaking ball, that’s all there is to it.”
“It’s very frustrating, but I think we can better.”
The timely knocks by Brubaker and Blair at the plate and the dazzling show by Riley on the mound wiped away the positive tidings of what was a grinding, steady comeback attempt by the Huskies after they fell down 3-0 in the top of the first.
The Polar Bears feasted on a series of open-inning walks as well as timely contact from freshman Sammy Vinai and senior Will Runyan to get that 3-0 early lead. Viani brought the first run of the game across the plate when he dinged a single to center field to score Dominic Viani, and then one batter later Runyan lined a shot to second to both reach safely himself and bring home an additional run on a fielder’s choice RBI. Bryson Flowers tacked on a third run in the top of the first when he drew a walk that scored Sammy Viani.
But once North Marion turned the ball over to Cole Malnick on the mound after just two 2/3 of an inning, the tenor of the entire game flipped on its head. Malnick pitched the full final six-plus innings and allowed just four hits, a pair of earned runs, and no walks versus five strikeouts.
“Cole did an outstanding job,” Securro said. “He held them scoreless in, what, five innings — I thought he did a nice job for us and we had some nice defensive plays behind him.”
Malnick also came through in a big way at the plate for the Huskies, as he went 2-for-4 with a 2-RBI single up the middle in the third inning to score Michael Harris and Tariq Miller for North’s first runs of the game. North Marion also got an RBI double from senior catcher Jace Rinehart to tie the game in the fifth and a hit apiece from Harris and Miller.
But Fairmont Senior, after seeing its bats go mostly silent for nearly the entire evening after the three-run first, came through when it mattered most to nab a big victory and North-West bragging rights.
“It shows we have the ability to stay in games and always be in a game no matter what,” Brubaker said. “I mean, if we keep fighting and we keep our energy up, no one can beat us.”