4/21/23:  It was a tale with two chapters Friday afternoon at Moody Field, as the Redwood Varsity Baseball Giants and starting pitcher Rex Solle carried a riveting pitchers’ duel into the 6th inning, then suddenly collapsed, surrendering both the lead and the game, 5-1. As a result, the teams flip-flopped in the MCAL standings, with the Wildcats assuming top spot based on percentage points.

Solle established dominance over the Wildcats early, striking out the side to open the game. As in some previous outings, Solle took an inning or so to find his control, walking two and throwing 27 pitches in the first frame, but then averaging under 12 pitches/inning for the next four innings, while striking out nine and allowing only one hit – a harmless single by Wildcat shortstop Carl Schmidt.

Meanwhile, the Giants were faring no better against Wildcat starter Gavin Simurdiak, managing no hits and only one baserunner through the first four innings. The game’s most dramatic moment in the first hour and a half was in the top of the 4th, when a Solle fastball found its way through the glove of Giants catcher Rory Coughlan, clipping the home plate ump on the forearm, and causing a 5-minute delay while he tried to shake it off.

With one out in the bottom of the 5th, Giants designated hitter Matthew Knauer finally broke the drought with a line drive single to right, just over the glove of Wildcat second baseman Jude Baker. Center fielder Gavin Soper followed with a sharp grounder under the glove of first baseman Bruno Condit, sending Knauer to third.

Next up, Giants right fielder Jack Moseley pushed what looked to be a killer squeeze bunt attempt down the first base line, but a jaunty head-first slide by Knauer seemed wasted when the ball rolled foul. Fortunately, the sliding practice came in handy for Knauer when Moseley slugged the next pitch out to Wildcat left fielder Jayden Lee.

Tagging at third, Knauer bolted for home on the catch, testing Lee, who initiated a perfect relay through Schmidt to catcher Jake Lyall, who looked like he might have the goods on Knauer. But the second time sliding was a charm for Knauer, as he arrived head-first into Lyall’s glove, dislodging the ball and taking the lead for the Giants, 1-0.

Back out to defend the lead, Solle started the 6th inning inauspiciously by drilling Wildcat leadoff hitter Maddox Thompson in the back. Schmidt then launched a monster blast to dead center that sent Soper back to the wall, where he squared up for the catch and out number one. Lee followed with a slow grounder to first which Minty realized he would have to take unassisted. Bobbling the ball momentarily as he glanced over at the runner, Minty quickly snatched the ball back out of the air and snapped an impatient tag onto Lee for the second out. It seemed the Giants were going to fight for this narrow advantage.

But with just one out to go, the air seemed to go out of Giant spirits when an apparent strike three to cleanup hitter Burnes was instead called a ball four, just high. Now, instead of the Wildcats sitting down, two runners were on, and Lyall was coming to the plate. Lyall, no doubt still irked from allowing the go-ahead run just five minutes ago, turned on an inside fastball and sent it screaming over third base, just fair, and clearly for extra bases. The Wildcat bench danced raucously as the ball bounced around in the corner, eluding left fielder Sam Gersch, and allowing both Thompson and Burnes to score, handing the lead back to Marin Catholic, 2-1.

Looking for insurance runs, the Wildcats sent in Bennett Hadd to run for Lyall at second. Solle then walked DH Ramon Estrada, then advanced both runners with a wild pitch. Baker then delivered a sharp single to left, scoring Hadd, making it 3-1, and finishing Solle’s work for the day.

Coach Firenzi brought in senior Ben Resnick, who had seen occasional mound duty during the year, but who is not primarily a pitcher. Resnick delivered a wild pitch as his first offering to third baseman Miguel Lopez, sending Estrada to third. To his credit, though, he then got Lopez to pop up to shortstop Danil Wells, bringing the painful inning to a close.

The Giants’ top of the order couldn’t muster any response whatsoever in the bottom of the 6th, going down quietly for what would be Simurdiak’s last inning.

Resnick returned to the mound in the 7th, getting pinch-hitter Spencer Wheels on a towering popup in foul ground which Solle, now at third, plucked at the very edge of play, as it grazed along the side fence. Perhaps the Giants would get out of this inning more quickly than the last.

Sadly, that was not to be, as Resnick walked Maddox on a pitch behind his back, then drilled both Schmidt and Lee to load the bases. It seemed Resnick wasn’t going to find the strike zone anytime soon, so, with the score still 3-1, and cleanup hitter Burnes coming up, Firenzi turned to junior Chas Veley.

Inheriting the unenviable situation of bases loaded with one out in the 7th, down narrowly to an arch-rival, with their top hitter at the plate, Veley continued the downward trend, walking Burns on four pitches, then Lyall on five, before settling down to strike out pinch-hitter LJ Smith, then getting Baker on a fielder’s choice. The Giants had allowed two runs in the 7th on zero hits. In fact, the Wildcats had gotten their five runs on only three hits for the entire game.

As in their previous meeting, Schmidt came in to pitch the 7th inning for the Wildcats, and like the previous meeting, the Giants went down in order on his fastballs down the middle. Lopez, now moved over to short, laid out for Wells’s soft line drive behind second base for the defensive play of the game, robbing Wells of what would have been the Giants’ third hit for the day.

With the loss, the Giants move to 14-6 on the year (9-3 MCAL). The Wildcats (13-5, 8-2) take over the top spot in the MCAL on percentage points. The Wildcats have six MCAL games remaining, while the Giants have four. It’s certainly possible – maybe even likely – that these two teams will meet again in the MCAL playoffs.

On Tuesday, the Giants kick off a home and away series with the surprising (13-6, 7-5) Novato Hornets, before closing out their regular season the following week against the Branson Bulls.

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