Scotland County completed an improbable comeback in extra innings on Thursday night in Edina to claim the district championship and advance into the state baseball playoffs.
Top seed Canton caught all of the breaks early on. The Tigers took advantage of some command issues for Scotland County’s Aaron Buford. The sophomore hurler struggled locating his curveball.
Despite being limited to just one pitch, Buford still basically kept Canton in check. The team used some trickery to steal a run in the second inning. After the umpire had previously granted a Canton batter timeout in mid pitch by Buford, the hurler was called for a balk when the pitcher halted mid pitch as the Canton player was calling for timeout. That forced in a run to make the score 1-0 in the second inning.
SCR-I limited the damage. Buford made a head’s up play on a comebacker to mound, faking a throw to first to pick off the runner at third base instead. He was able to work out of a bases loaded jam with a pair of strikeouts.
Unfortunately that lone run looked as it might be enough as Justin Fellinger kept the SCR-I bats in check early on. He was able to work around a pair of errors in the first two innings and stranded Buford at third base in the third after he recorded the first Tigers’ hit and stole a pair of bases.
Canton tacked on a run in the third inning, when Buford hit three batters and walked another before again working out of a bases loaded jam.
Scotland County put together a two-out rally in the fifth to finally get on the board. Kyler Burkhiser doubled to center field. He scored when Gage Dodge reached on an error to trim the deficit to 2-1.
Despite suffering a broken pinkie finger in the district semifinals, Burkhiser took over on the mound in the fifth inning. He was greeted rudely by Canton, who took advantage of an error and a hit batsman as well a pair of hits to plate two runs and make the lead 4-1 as the game appeared to be slipping away from SCR-I.
Scotland County refused to quit. Grant Campbell led off the sixth inning with a base hit. He stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Campbell crossed the plate when Jacob Blessing reached on an error to make the score 4-2.
Burkhiser worked around a two-out double in the sixth, which proved to be the last base runner the senior would allow.
He led off the seventh with a base hit to right field. Gage Dodge followed with a double. Aaron Buford plated a run with an infield single. A pair of Canton errors allowed the tying run to cross the plate before Fellinger stranded the go ahead runner at third base.
Burkhiser retired Canton in order in the bottom of the seventh and the eighth.
Scotland County scored the winning run with another two-out rally. Tyler Buford singled. Courtesy runner Zach Curry appeared to be picked off first base but his slide knocked the ball out of the first baseman’s mitt, extending the inning. Curry stole second base and came in to score when Grant Campbell’s line drive up the middle bounced off the leaping shortstop’s glove and into center field for an RBI single.
Burkhiser worked a perfect ninth inning, with third baseman Dodge fielding a grounder and firing to first to set off the SCR-I celebration.
Burkhiser notched the pitching victory. He was charged with two runs, one earned on three hits and no walks in five innings of work. He was perfect in extra innings, retiring 10 straight batters to close out the win. Buford allowed two runs, one earned in four innings of work, walking three and hitting three batters while striking out five.
Aaron Buford was 3-5 at the plate with an RBI. Burkhiser was 2-4 and Campbell went 2-5 with two RBIs.
Scotland County improved to 21-2 on the season and will advance to play Louisiana (14-8), the District 5 champs.