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Clutch hitting leads Freeport past Apollo-Ridge

| Monday, April 29, 2013, 11:39 p.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Apollo-Ridge second baseman Ryan Ferguson drifts over near first-baseman Delbert Brown to make a catch Monday, April 29, 2013, against Freeport at Apollo-Ridge High School.

Freeport and Apollo-Ridge got their share of hits Monday, but the Yellowjackets showed the value of those hits coming at the right time.

Matt Swartz was 3 for 6 with four RBI, and Levi Negley was 3 for 5 with three doubles to help Freeport clinch a playoff spot with a 15-7 win at Apollo-Ridge in a Section 3-AA game.

Freeport (10-2, 8-2) scored at least one run in every inning after Josh Beale's solo home run to right field started the seventh, and the Yellowjackets have posted 12 or more runs in four consecutive games.

“We've been hitting the ball really well, and I'm pleased with what we did today,” Freeport coach Chris Graczyk said. “They hit the ball well in key situations, and we got guys in. That's what helps you win games.”

Despite the eight-run difference, Freeport only had a 12-10 edge in hits over Apollo-Ridge (7-10, 3-6). But the Vikings struggled bringing runners home, as they had a runner thrown out at home in the fifth and failed to score in the sixth after loading the bases with one out.

“In today's game and the game against Deer Lakes (a 2-1 loss on Thursday), between those two games, we had the stage set with the bases loaded three times and we were unable to produce runs,” Apollo-Ridge coach Jeremy Smail said. “What I'm trying to express to our guys is that we just need that clutch hit, and we haven't had it happen.”

Freeport pushed out to a 6-0 lead in the top of the second after two-RBI hits by Ethan McCormick and Negley.

Sam Held put Apollo-Ridge on the board with a solo home run over the left-field fence in the bottom of the second, but Freeport added three more runs in the next two innings to extend the lead to 9-1.

The Vikings had a big fourth inning, aided by three walks and two errors by Freeport. Ryan Ferguson, Zach Weinel and Joe Long drove in one run each to help Apollo-Ridge get back in the game by scoring five in the frame.

“We had a bad inning out there in the field, and we'll want to clean stuff like that up,” Graczyk said. “You don't want to have innings like that let games get away from us moving toward the playoffs.”

Freeport regained control in the fifth with RBI doubles by Robbie Miller and Swartz that pushed the lead to 11-6. Luke Mariotti pitched for Freeport in the bottom of the fifth and allowed one unearned run over the final three innings to get the save in relief of winning pitcher McCormick.

Both teams have much to play for during the season's final week, as Apollo-Ridge is still alive in the playoff hunt.

The Vikings need help in the form of losses by both Ford City and Burrell, but most importantly, they will need to win a pair of games this week against West Shamokin to set up a possible season-ending elimination game with Burrell.

“The last three section games we have are winnable games. Burrell's going to be a battle, and I'm not looking past West Shamokin, either,” Smail said. “We have a lot of respect for every team in this section, but we're capable of winning every game we're in, if we play the way we're capable of playing.”

Though safely locked into a playoff spot, Freeport isn't ready to concede the section title to first-place Deer Lakes and will approach its final two regular-season games with an eye on extending its four-game winning streak.

“We're still playing for our seeding, and we have a chance of at least tying for the section title,” Graczyk said. “We're not going to take our last two games lightly, against Burrell or Deer Lakes. We've got to go out and take care of our own business.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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