By Mike Mattson
Newaygo’s baseball run toward a Division 3 state title came to a shocking end Tuesday against Mancelona.
The Ironmen rallied from a 1-0 deficit by scoring a run in the sixth inning and adding the game-winning unearned run in the bottom of the eighth for a 2-1 victory at Traverse City West High School.
Mancelona (29-5) advances to Friday’s 5 p.m. state semifinal in Battle Creek against Lansing Catholic Central, while Newaygo’s season ends at 22-16.
The Lions, who scored in the top of the third inning, won the school’s first conference baseball title since 1997 and captured the school’s first regional crown last weekend.
Newaygo was on track for a coveted quarterfinal win, thanks to standout pitching from Brandon Phillips and an early lead.
Phillips pitched a three-hitter with 10 strikeouts and one walk in his best outing of the season.
“He pitched a great game,” Newaygo coach Jeff Milbourne said about Phillips, who exited the mound after seven innings.
Newaygo grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the third after Phillips singled. Courtesy runner Hunter Needier later came home after Damien Longoria reached base on an error by Mancelona’s third baseman.
The Lions, who stranded 11 runners, failed to score with the bases loaded in the first and fifth innings.
Mancelona got its big break in the top of the sixth when Phillips struck out Cole Van Wagoner on a curveball for the apparent third out. However, the ball bounced away from catcher Larry Bolson and got lost momentarily behind Van Wagoner’s bat.
VanWagoner sprinted to first base and later scored on a double by Wyatt Derrer to tie the game at 1-1. It proved to be a frustrating turn of events for Phillips and the Lions, who sent the Ironmen down 1-2-3 in the seventh inning.
Andrew Middleton relieved Phillips in the bottom of the eighth and was the victim of two costly Newaygo errors.
Damien Decker reached base on an infield error to open the eighth, advanced to second on a wild pitch and came home after Logan Borst’s sacrifice bunt was fielded and thrown errantly to first base.
Senior Craig Conway pitched the victory for Mancelona, allowing six hits, walking four and striking out eight in eight innings.
Ben Milbourne, Symon Cronk, Larry Bulson, Robbie Mendham, Phillips and Longoria each had a hit for the Lions.
“We had our chances,” Jeff Milbourne said. “We didn’t take advantage of their mistakes and they took advantage of ours.
“I’m proud of our team. We won the conference, district and regional championships. That’s pretty good in high school baseball.”