, Muskogee, OK

April 27, 2014

Wagoner rallies to win FG tourney title

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— FORT GIBSON — Sometimes, opportunity isn’t grabbed as much as it falls into your lap. That was the case for the Wagoner Bulldogs in the Fort Gibson Invitational championship game Saturday at Carr-O’Dell Tiger Field.

The Bulldogs got away with stranding 15 baserunners thanks to a massive dose of Fort Gibson Tigers misfortune in a fateful fourth inning that turned the tables en route to a 7-5 Wagoner win.

Wagoner had left eight runners on base in the first three innings and trailed 3-1 when Tigers catcher Cole Igert had an inning that he’d just as soon like to forget.

With two on in the Wagoner fourth, Roman Rodriguez doubled to score Tyler Milligan. Wyat Grooms rounded third and got himself caught in a rundown when Igert’s throw to Tristan Johnson at third sailed down the line. In came Grooms and Rodriguez to give Wagoner the lead at 4-3.

The Bulldogs weren’t done.

Will Rumbley (3-2), who started on the mound for the Tigers, walked his sixth and final batter in Chancey Scott, prompting FGHS coach Randy Smith to summon Braden Williams in to pitch. A stolen base and two passed balls brought Scott in. Williams then walked Cody Milligan, but made a recovery by striking out Brett Butler — well, almost.

A passed ball third strike put Butler on first and Cody Milligan home for the fifth and final run of the inning. Wagoner had the lead for good at 6-3.

“I put the ball in play and got a double out of it, felt pretty good, then just took advantage of what happened and went home,” Rodriguez said. “That (misfortune) can happen to anyone anytime in baseball.”

Smith figured Igert had had enough and brought Justin Cates in after the passed ball third strike double-whammy.

“You can’t give that many runs away,” Smith said following the Tigers’ second loss to Wagoner in three meetings this season. “We’ve been struggling behind the plate, but that wasn’t the only thing that went wrong.”

Markie Carman’s two-run double and a pair of doubles in the third by Colton Dorris and Johnson had given the Tigers the early advantage, but a discovery during that span led to change in approach by Bulldogs starting pitcher Tyler Milligan (8-1), and that, coupled with the fourth inning fiasco, got him in a groove on the way to a five-hit complete-game win.

“They were hitting first-pitch fastballs and I changed it up to start them off with off-speed which kept them off-balance. Our guys were playing good defense and their hitters were out on their front foot on curveballs,” he said.

“We figured that out real fast,” said Wagoner coach Larry Milligan, father of the Bulldogs’ battery for the day. “Tyler didn’t have his best stuff today but he battled and kept us in the game, which is what I told him to focus on.”

Smith was impressed with the effort.

“He’s a smart kid, a coach’s kid and he’s been around the game enough,” he said. “He made that adjustment where a lot of kids won’t.”

The pitcher got some big help from his sibling in the Fort Gibson seventh. Austin Davis greeted Tyler Milligan with a single to right, then Cates was hit by a pitch. With two on and no outs, Cody Milligan had a quick reaction to a foul off the bat of Dorris, lunging out of his squat and in a few quick steps, stretched and made the grab.

Boo Seward’s single cut the lead to 7-5, then Rodriguez, playing third, made a nice play on a hard-hit grounder by Stone, stepped on the bag for the force before throwing to Grooms at first to beat Stone by a step.

The Bulldogs finished with seven hits against three Tiger pitchers. Dylan Nuckolls came on in the fifth. Combined, the three hurlers walked 11 batters.

For Wagoner (19-6), regardless of how it was done, the win and the title serves as a shot of momentum. The Bulldogs play at Okmulgee on Monday and Vinita on Tuesday before hosting Claremore Sequoyah, a team they beat 13-5 to open this tournament, in the best-of-three district series starting Thursday.

“We talked about it. We faced some good teams here and every time we’ve played Fort Gibson, it’s been this kind of game,” Larry Milligan said. “It’s been a roller coaster so far for us but this was a big win so maybe it will propel us a little bit further in the postseason.”

Smith found some silver in the lining for his team, which is at Oologah on Tuesday then starts districts at Sallisaw on Thursday.

“We haven’t been to the finals of this in a few years, so that’s a plus,” he said. “We need to learn from our mistakes and get better.”

Other games:

• Claremore Sequoyah  beat Hilldale 9-1 for fifth place. Isaac Isham broke up McKaine Foster’s shutout bid with two outs in the fifth. Kort Morgan also had a hit. The Hornets are 13-15 with a game Tuesday against Spiro and districts against Checotah on Thursday.

• Sperry beat Poteau 5-3 in the third-place game and for seventh, it was Victory Christian beating Stilwell 7-4.