Bulldogs Walk-off to Beat Jackson

The Athens Bulldogs survived a seventh inning rally and Kyle Dean hit the walk-off single with the bases loaded to beat the Jackson Ironmen 7-6 Friday at Rannow Field to improve to 7-1 on the young season.

Colton Noftz (1-0) pitched six innings of very efficient baseball, but it all began to unravel in the top of the seventh. The junior carried a four-run lead into the final inning, only to see the Ironmen explode at the plate to tie the game. Jackson scored four runs off of five hits and plated all nine batters in the inning.

“They were hitting where we weren’t, they were hitting it well,” Noftz said. “I was just trying to battle through and keep throwing strikes for everybody.”

And he did just that.

With Jackson threatening to regain the lead with two men on, Noftz struck out Josh Cunningham looking to end the inning.

“The umpire was showing that outside corner. He was favoring it a lot,” Noftz said. “I was trying to hit it.”

Cunningham had a chance to repay Noftz to lead off the bottom of the seventh. But, after falling behind early, Noftz worked the count full and drew a walk in a very gutsy at-bat. Then, after retiring the next two Athens batters, Cunningham ran into some more control issues and walked Greg Patch and Tyler Harris to load the bases for Dean.

“People pulled through in the end, especially in that last inning“ Noftz said.

It was the Ironmen who opened up the scoring in the first. Noftz walked Dustin Wyant who came around to score off a single from first baseman Brian Jarvis.

Athens came back to tie the game up in the bottom of the second. Noftz led off the inning with a single and stole second. He advanced to third on an infield hit from Casey Grimm and scored on a double play off the bat of Shad McCollum.

The Bulldogs’ bats caught fire in the bottom of the third. Seven different batters reached base as coach Fred Gibson’s team batted through the lineup.

Jackson starter Taylor Stepp gave up a pair of singles Dean and Doug Chapman and double to Dean Maffin to lead off the inning. Dean scored off of Maffin’s blast and Chapman would score on a sacrifice fly from left fielder Curtis Goldsberg to put Athens up two runs.

Stepp struck out Noftz before giving up back-to-back walks to Grimm and pinch-hitter Jordan Schriner to load the bags. At that point, Jackson coach Lance Rolston, a former Ohio State standout, had seen enough.

Rolston brought in left-hander Stefan Long to get the final out. That move did not pan out so well.

Long hit Patch, the first batter he faced, to bring Maffin home. Harris followed with a two-run single to put the Bulldogs up 6-1. Long continued to struggle with control and hit Dean to load the bases once again but was able to get Chapman to foul out first base to prevent any more damage.

Noftz on the other hand, was dynamite until the seventh inning.

“In the early innings he was getting by on seven, eight, nine pitches,” Gibson said.

Although his pitches did not have much velocity, Noftz control and placement were outstanding. He finished the game with seven strikeouts.

Noftz made one mistake between the first and seventh innings. After striking out a pair of Ironmen to start out the fifth, he missed with a changeup and Kruis Wandling made him pay by belting a solo homerun over fence in left-center. The ball traveled at least 360 feet.

Travis Walker took over on the mound for Jackson in the third and stupefied that Athens batters. In three innings of relief, Walker allowed just one hit while striking out three. He retired seven Bulldogs in a row heading into the seventh.

After working out of a jam in sixth inning, Noftz returned to finish the game in the seventh, but Jackson would not go quietly.

Walker reached first base on an errant throw from second baseman McCollum to lead off the top of the seventh for Jackson. Alec Ray followed with a single to left, but left fielder Goldsberg’s cut-off throw was off, which allowed Walker to score and Ray to advance to third.

“We had a couple miscues but in reality, they kept coming through with base hits after,” Gibson said. “It really had no effect in the game.”

Wandling brought Ray home with a single and advanced to third on a double from Dustin Wyant before Noftz could retire a batter. First baseman Brian Jarvis tied the game up at six apiece with a single two batters later.

Noftz allowed one more hit before striking out Cunnigham to end the inning.

“Colton made a great pitch to strike the guy out,” Gibson said. “He finished up that inning and got the win. I’m very happy for him.”

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