By Allen VanNess (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In a rematch of last year’s Class 2 Sectionals matchup, the Mansfield Lions once again came out victorious as they defeated the Hartville Eagles, 9-5, to move on to Wednesday’s quarterfinal showdown between the New Covenant Warriors.
While the result was the same for the Lions as last season, one difference this year was for Mansfield head coach Joe Garrison, who moved a mere 11 miles down the road from Hartville to Mansfield to coach at his alma mater.
“This is back home for me,” said Garrison. “It’s never easy to play the last game of the year and it be a loss. Hartville has a lot to be proud of and they played a good ballgame. When you leave it all out there and play your best, that’s all you can do, and we are just fortunate to be on top today.”
The game, however, could not have started any better for the Eagles. After Holton Simmons led off the game with a single up the middle, Stone Matthews and Luke Goslee hit back-to-back, two-out doubles to give the Eagles an early 2-0 lead after the first inning.
The Lions came roaring back in the third inning that started with a one-out throwing error on Simmons. With two outs and a runner at first and second, Spencer Greene got Mansfield on the board in a big way with a towering home run on a 2-0 pitch to left field.
“Honestly, I didn’t think he was going to give me a fastball,” said Greene. “I was sitting curveball, but I knew there was a possibility because he wanted to get me back to even, so I knew there was a possibility of a fastball, but I was really sitting on a curveball. When I saw the spin, I just let the hands fly.”
Six batters later, and the Lions suddenly found themselves with a 6-2 lead after the third inning.
“Our approaches at the plate changed a little bit, and you have to do that against a strike thrower,” Garrison said of the big inning. “When a guy kind of tells you how he’s going to approach you, you adjust and that’s what we did. I am thankful we did and hung a six spot there that really came at the right time.”
After doing it with the bat, Garrison called upon Greene to do it on the mound also after an RBI double from Hartville’s Stone Mathews in the bottom of the inning. Two runs later and the Eagles suddenly found themselves right back in the game, 6-5.
With three more runs by the Lions in the top of the sixth inning, the Eagles tried to put a last gasp effort in the bottom half of the seventh inning.
“The runs were huge,” Greene said. “Being able to come out with a 6-2 lead just lets you kind of relax. We added three more on after that going late into the game, so that was a huge insurance for me.”
With the bases loaded for the Eagles, Garrison went to the mound to talk to reassure his pitcher. Greene had other plans, as he was the one who calmed Garrison instead.
“Before I got a chance to talk he said, ‘What are you doing out here?’” Garrison said of the mound visit. “I just said, ‘Well, I just wanted to make sure everybody else knows what they are doing.’ He then told me we had two outs, and I told him that he was right, so let’s just step on it. I was thinking we had one out and I missed my count, and I was thankful when I got out there they were ready to go.”
Ultimately, Garrison knows he has a special team and isn’t ready for the dream of trying to take his hometown team to another state final to end just yet.
“We were just blessed to be able to play on a beautiful day,” Garrison said. “We got four inches of rain in 45 minutes last night, but the good Lord has blessed us and blessed the mighty Lions today. I am so thankful to be a part of this.”
Next up, the Lions play New Covenant on Wednesday at 4:30 pm at New Covenant. For Garrison and Lions, the game plan is simple.
“We just have to continue to do what we do and put pressure on people from top to bottom in the order, field it well and throw strikes,” Garrison said.
Mansfield 006 003 0 – 9
Hartville 203 000 0 – 5