It was tested multiple times, but Greenwood was able to hold on Monday night.
Facing Warren Central — a team that didn’t win a District 14 game all season — the Gators earned one of the young Dragons’ best performances of the year and had to battle for a 10-5 win in the opening round of the District 14 Baseball Tournament at South Warren Ballpark.
“We had opportunties,” Greenwood coach Jason Jaggers said. “On more than one occasion we had the chance to kind of put it away, and we didn’t do that. That’s a credit to Warren Central where they battled back. I think there in the fifth we had bases loaded with one out and they were able to get out of that jam. We’ve gotta find a way to stay on that gas pedal.”
Greenwood (20-13 overall) used a solid all-around offense and multi-hit outings from Cade Thornton, Dell Henk and Mac Ausbrooks to come out on top. The Gators finished with 10 hits and scored runs in all but two innings to make up for a late comeback attempt by the Dragons.
The Gators scored one run in the opening inning and followed up with three in the second, third and fifth, respectively. Thornton led the way for Greenwood with a 2-for-3, three RBI outing while Henk went 2-for-2 with a pair of RBI.
“I think it was a good team battle,” Thornton said. “We got ahead early and just powered our way for a win.”
Greenwood wasn’t at its best on the defensive end, but earned a solid pitching performance from starter Tyler Cook. Cook tossed six strikeouts and allowed four hits and three runs in 4.1 innings of work. Mac Ausbrooks came in and replaced Adam Schneller with one out in the top of the seventh and ended the game with a strikeout and the bases loaded.
With Greenwood’s victory, it advances to face top-seeded — and host — South Warren at 5 p.m. Tuesday as it’ll be looking to secure a spot in Wednesday’s championship. The Spartans swept the regular-season series against the Gators, winning those games by scores of 14-4, 5-4 and 15-0.
“We did enough to win tonight,” Jaggers said. “Mac did a good job of coming in and closing the door, and I thought ‘Cookie’ did a good job of giving us what he had tonight. South Warren is a team that you can’t give extra outs, and if you get ahead, you can’t relax. (South Warren coach Chris) Gage and I talked earlier this season on how you almost don’t feel comfortable with an eight or nine-run lead.
“We’ve gotta stay on it. We’ve gotta play better than we did tonight if we wanna advance to Wednesday.”
Warren Central — which was led by Noah Thomas, who went 3-for-4 with three RBI — finishes its 2018 season with an overall record of 9-17, an improvement from 2017’s two-win campaign.
Greenwood struck first, scoring on Ausbrooks’ single in the bottom of the first. With Henk on after hitting a single, Ausbrooks sent a grounder into left field to score his predecessor and gave the Gators an early 1-0 lead.
“You’ve always gotta score people on base,” Thornton said. “We’ll come back next game and capitalize on (more) opportunities.”
Behind three runs on three hits in the second, Greenwood pushed its advantage to a comfortable 4-0. Maddox Burr led off with a single and quickly scored after stealing home from third base. Back-to-back singles from Thornton and Henk shortly after moved the scoreboard to 4-0.
Warren Central broke through with a single by Jordan Lindsey in the top of the third to make it 4-1, but the Gators quickly fired back with another three-run frame. Nate Cunningham crossed the plate from third on a passed ball, and Thornton followed up with a single into centerfield to score a pair and move Greenwood’s lead to 7-1.
Despite trailing by six runs, the Dragons weren’t going away.
“It’s good,” Warren Central coach Adam Biller said of his team’s fight. “We’ve preached all year about finishing ball games. The little things we worked on last week was what we wanted to carry over into today. Our game plan — we didn’t execute as much as we wanted to — and that cost us tonight.”
Central took advantage of a Greenwood error in the fourth and scored Jerry Adams from third to make it 7-2. Just an inning later, an RBI single from Thomas brought the Dragons to within 7-3.
Greenwood’s third three-run inning of the night extended its lead to 10-3 at the end of five. Two of the three runs came courtesy of bases-loaded walks, while Ausbrooks delivered the third with an RBI single.
Warren Central responded yet again in the sixth.
After Schneller walked a pair, Thomas came up big for the second straight inning. Taking advantage of having two on, Thomas sent a single into right field to plate both runners and cut the Dragons’ deficit down to 10-5.
It kept battling, but Greenwood and Ausbrooks were able to keep Warren Central from getting anything else in the seventh and held on for the win.
“We met some of our goals statistically, but there’s still a lot of areas that we need to improve on,” Biller said. “We made it to nine wins this season, which is great, but the ultimate goal is to be competitive in these district games. Start getting some district wins and competing for a district championship.”