Martinsville traveled to Cary, N.C. on Saturday afternoon for an exhibition game against Team USA. The Mustangs played a solid game and were able to keep the game tied until late when Team USA scored the winning run in the seventh to win 2-1.
Martinsville used eight different pitchers over the course of the night in an effort to give Team USA as many different looks as possible. Tate Brawley was the first pitcher for the Mustangs. In the first after a hit batter, Grant Koch singled to score the first run for Team USA. Brawley would bear down and end the inning with no further damage.
“I always want to play against the best competition possible,” Brawley said. “Those guys are “the best freshman and sophomores in the country,” so it was fun playing against them.”
In the second inning the Mustangs went with Andrew Ciolli who walked the bases loaded with one out. That brought up Virginia sophomore Jake McCarthy. Ciolli’s first pitch to McCarthy was grounded to second where Josh Smith and Keaton Weisz turned two, ending the inning.
Martinsville offense was facing Oklahoma sophomore Jake Irvin who was dealing. In the third inning Martinsville put the tying run at third base with Smith at the plate. The Mustangs second baseman hit a fly ball into right-center but McCarthy made a diving catch to preserve the lead for Team USA.
The Mustangs pitching staff was solid for the remainder of the game. In the third Preston Szuch retired the heart of the lineup for Team USA. The senior talked about what it meant to pitch on a big stage.
“There were a lot of scouts there and in a big environment it was hard to keep the nerves down but I felt like with the guys behind me I really didn’t have anything to worry about,” he said. “The only thing I was focused on, was of course trying to sling it and I got a lot of late foul balls from those guys which made me happy. I really pounded the zone so I’m happy about that.”
In the fourth with a new pitcher in the game for Team USA the Mustangs offense got the boost they needed from their clean-up hitter.
After Tim Cate struck out the first two hitters, Lee Sponseller stood in and lifted a ball deep down the rightfield line. The ball kept drifting and snuck inside the foul pole for a home run. That tied the game 1-1.
After the game Mustangs Head Coach Danny Higginbotham talked about his slugger who stepped up on the big stage.
“He’s a team leader,” he said. “He’s quiet but he shows up everyday. He’s a great example for the younger guys.”
Holden Nix the sophomore from Trinity pitched the fourth inning. With a runner at second, Cam Shepherd hit a ball towards the hole that Mustangs shortstop Keaton Weisz was able to keep in the infield. The runner from second tried to score but Weisz made an off-balanced throw to the plate for the out.
“For me going out there tonight it just felt good,” Nix said. “I just tried to rip seams, crush dreams, shoot cheese, and throw knees.”
Isaac Hale was the fifth pitcher for Martinsville and he retired Team USA in order as he finished the frame with a strikeout of Jackson Lueck.
Omar Maldonado III got his turn in the sixth. After striking out the first batter, Maldonado got Clemson slugger Seth Beer to ground out and Maldonado finished with a strikeout to end the inning.
Team USA finally broke through in the seventh and final inning. A Travis Swaggerty single and a Johnny Aiello double scored the go-ahead run. Mustangs pitcher Mike Stephens was able to end the inning by getting the next two outs.
The two teams played an extra inning to simulate international rules but the inning didn’t factor into the final score which was 2-1 Team USA. Higginbotham was extremely happy with the way his team dialed it in against elite talent.
“I feel blessed to even be in this league,” Higginbotham said. “There are so many talented players. They weren’t scared of the situation. They just looked at it as another day and another opportunity to get some good hitters out. That’s how they attacked it. It was great to see them thrive in the moment. I hope it was good exposure for them.”
Martinsville will return home Monday to face High Point-Thomasville for a doubleheader beginning at 6:00.