DOVER — When Plant faced Sickles one week ago, the game only went five innings, as the Gryphons strung together eight hits and forced the 10-run mercy rule.
The teams met again Wednesday in the Gold Division championship game of the Saladino Baseball Tournament, and from the start, it looked as though Sickles’ bats still hadn’t lost any steam.
The Gryphons led by four early with the help of three home runs, two of which came from first baseman Caden McDonald. But each time Sickles made a move, Plant always seemed to have a response, and a string of timely RBI singles and costly Gryphons errors lifted the Panthers to a 7-6 victory.
Plant’s Saladino Tournament championship is its sixth overall and first since 2014.
“We’ve been getting a lot from a lot of different guys,” coach Dennis Braun said. “It’s a young team, and they’re learning how to grind, figuring out the game and knowing it takes 21 outs.”
McDonald, who came into Wednesday’s matchup with 19 RBIs on the season, hit his first home run on the first pitch of his first-inning at-bat, giving Sickles the 1-0 lead early. In the third inning, centerfielder Hayden Yost had a solo shot of his own before McDonald stepped up again to hit another bomb, this one to left centerfield.
The Gryphons (9-1) took a 4-0 lead, but Braun wasn’t counting his guys out just yet. After all, he said, they expected this type of hitting from their familiar opponent.
“They had some pretty big hits, but fortunately they didn’t have a lot of guys on when they did it,” Braun said. “We talked about that, that they may get some. As long as we keep guys off bases, it wouldn’t kill us. And fortunately it worked out.”
Sickles didn’t have its lead for long. In the top of the fourth, Plant (8-3) struck right back, as the last three hitters in the lineup each recorded an RBI to help tie the score.
In the fifth, just as McDonald was making his third trip to the plate, Plant put in right-handed reliever Dominic Woodward. The fresh arm still couldn’t stump him, and McDonald hit a two-run double to give the lead right back to the Gryphons.
Woodward didn’t let it get to him.
“I feel like it was a challenge,” he said. “We know we’re going to score more runs, so I might as well keep the score there for when we get up again.”
And that’s exactly what the Panthers did next.
Woodward didn’t give up another hit the rest of the night. Plant again battled back, loading the bases with a Sickles error, hit-by-pitch and single from pinch hitter Trey Freeman.
An RBI ground-out followed from Plant catcher Tanner Gilbert before the game-tying run scored on a Sickles error at second base. In the very next at-bat, freshman rightfielder Cash Strayer’s single drove in the game-winning run.
The Panthers may have been down, but they were never out. Believing that, leftfielder Conley Strayer said, was key to coming out on top.
“It was tough, but we had to keep the energy up,” Strayer said. “We’ve been playing together a long time, so we know we had a chance to come back. And that’s what we did.