HUBBARD - Junior pitcher Matt Shelton used his strong right arm to keep the Hubbard Eagles on the field entering the ninth inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, a weak fly ball off Shelton's bat provided the margin of difference in the Eagles' 3-2 win over the Howland Tigers in a Division II sectional baseball game May 12 at Harding Park.
The shallow fly ball to right field by Shelton with the bases loaded and one out set up a dramatic finish at home plate. Tigers right fielder Brendan O'Brien threw a perfect strike to the plate in an attempt to retire Kory Hopkinson, who tagged up at third base.
Howland catcher Justin Suddeth, who played well on defense throughout, had the ball in his mitt in time to tag out Hopkinson. Suddeth, however, wasn't able to maintain possession as the Eagles escaped with a win.
"We say, 'no guts; no glory,' " said Hubbard coach Brian Bosheff, who sent Hopkinson home in the ninth inning. "We were taking a chance there. It was one of those days where we had to force the issue. We were waiting around, and nothing was happening. It was a risky move on my part."
The sacrifice fly ended a game that was played well by both teams. Shelton went the distance in allowing a pair of unearned runs on five hits, striking out nine and not allowing a walk. Howland starting pitcher Andy Zigmont went seven innings and faced two batters in the eighth. He allowed two runs on nine hits, striking out six and walking one.
"They played a great game," Howland coach Rob Thompson said of the Tigers. "I'm extremely proud of them. Hubbard fought, and they deserved to win. They executed, and we didn't.
"All the seniors stepped it up. Andy pitched his guts out. Jared (Kirin) had a clutch double to tie it up, and Justin played a heck of a game behind the plate."
Hopkinson, who had four hits, opened the bottom of the ninth with a single. Tommy Jackson reached on a bunt single to put runners on first and second. Relief pitcher Adam Shrodek then walked Todd Gasior to load the bases with no outs.
Bo Slemons, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning, struck out on a 3-2 count. Shelton then lifted a Shrodek pitch into shallow right field to end the game.
"I was happy when I saw the ball roll out (of Suddeth's mitt)," Shelton said. "He (Hopkinson) was dead out. I had to put it into play. When you put it into play, good things happen."
Shelton mixed his pitches well and was able to hit the corners. He benefited from having a week off since his last start.
"My catcher (Tim Schiraldi) and I were on the same page," Shelton said. "Every second of the game he knew what should be thrown, and I was there with him throwing it. I wasn't shaking off anything. Our defense boosted everything."
Suddeth doubled with one out and scored on a fielding error by Slemons at third to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Slemons made up for the error by driving a Zigmont pitch over the fence in right field with Jackson on base.
"Their kid was throwing hard," Slemons said. "If you made contact with the ball, it was going to go. I was trying to put it into play, and it kept carrying all the way out over the fence."
The score remained 2-1 entering the top of the seventh. Kirin led off with a double and moved to third on a passed ball. Shelton struck out Zigmont and retired Shrodek on a ground out. Gasior wasn't able to field a ground ball off O'Brien's bat at shortstop, allowing pinch runner Domenic Termine to score the tying run.