MOVING ON THE PLAY: Shawe catcher Grayson Rhoten (left) goes after the ball as Madison’s Brandon Mann runs out a bunt Thursday at Post 9 Field. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
MOVING ON THE PLAY: Shawe catcher Grayson Rhoten (left) goes after the ball as Madison’s Brandon Mann runs out a bunt Thursday at Post 9 Field. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
Madison used a handful of timely bunts and a strong pitching performance by Clark Vaughn and Ryan Thurston to eek out a 3-2 baseball win over Shawe Memorial Thursday night at Post 9 Field.

The Cubs battled back from a 1-0 deficit in the first inning to score two runs in the third and another in the fourth and then doused several Hilltopper rallies the rest of the way to escape Shawe's senior night with a one-run win and bragging rights on the hilltop.

"These kids know each other," Madison coach Shannon Barger said. "They've got bragging rights that they want to worry about and that's why it's such a fun game. It was a great crowd on both sides. We had a lot of people here so it's a fun game."

"We were going into this game knowing we could win it," Shawe coach Matt Forner said. "One thing this team doesn't lack is confidence. I'm proud of every one of them. This is a special team. Anytime you have eight seniors who have been together four years and they're all friends and there's no controversy and they all look out for each other that's a special team.

"I mean that's the game you want," Forner added. "That's the game you want to play in every time. It's intense but those are the games that build strength in your team - both teams - and both teams played extremely well. I was very proud of our kids tonight. They were up for the game."

The game matched up Madison junior right-hander Vaughn and Shawe senior right-hander David Grote on the mound and the duel proved worthy of the rivalry.

Vaughn scattered five hits while striking out five, walking two and hitting two and Grote gave up six hits while striking out four, walking two and hitting two. Combine that with Thurston's four strikeouts and one walk over two innings to close out the win and secure the save and strong pitching left the two offenses scrambling for runs all game.

In the end, the difference-maker was Madison's ability to manufacture something out of very little and the Cubs did a better job running the bases to make more out of its opportunities. Sure, Madison smacked a pair of doubles - by Logan Kleopfer in the first and Ethan Leach in the third - to go with a triple by Derek Anderson in the sixth, but it was Madison's ability to execute bunts and keep runners moving that secured the win.

Trailing 1-0 in the top of the third, Leach drilled a leadoff double to left-center to set the table but it was Brandon Mann's bunt that resulted in a Shawe throwing error - the only error of the game - that knotted the score 1-1. Xavier Barnes then dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move Mann to second where he scored on Kleopfer's single to center for a 2-1 lead the Cubs would never relinquish.

Madison came back in the fourth with another leadoff hit - this time a single to right by Anderson - before Tanner Sauley executed a perfect bunt single to third and Tucker Callis was hit by a pitch to load the bases and put Anderson in position to score on a passed ball for a 3-1 cushion.

"We did some small things today. We got some bunts down - some really nice bunts down - and that's what we really have to do to get ready for sectional," Barger said. "It's good to play good people at the end of the year to prepare you for sectional and to win it and that's what we saw today."

Madison definitely ended up needing that cushion because Shawe threatened in the fourth, scored a run in the fifth and finally chased Vaughn by putting the first two batters on in the sixth before Barger called on the southpaw Thurston to put out the fire.

Madison's defense also played error-free baseball and came up with spectacular plays at times.

Barnes' diving catch of a Kyle Daugherty liner to center in the fourth erased what could have been at least a leadoff single and maybe more and Vaughn picked Luke Higgins off first for the second out after Higgins had singled to shortstop.

After Vaughn hit Chandler with a pitch to leadoff the sixth, Callis singled and Aczael Rios delivered a sacrifice bunt to put both in scoring position, but Thurston came on to strike out Whit Grote and tag out Chandler as he was trying to score from third on a passed ball.

"He got a late start," Forner said of Chandler's tag out at home. "He held up but I can't get mad at Jordan because the ball went right behind the catcher. The catcher turned and the ball was going right behind him so I lost sight of the ball and Jordan lost sight of the ball and that moment of hesitation was the difference. It was a bang-bang play. Either you go or you stay. It's game of inches."

The play at the plate erased what would have been the game-tying run because Shawe had loaded the bases in the fifth with Whit Grote scoring on a walk by Daugherty that made it 3-2 Madison. The Hilltoppers' first run had come in the bottom of the first when Daugherty walked, advanced to second on a passed ball and scored on Higgins' RBI single to left-center.

"We hit the ball and we hit the ball in key situations when we had baserunners but unfortunately we took ourselves out of it a few times with base-running mistakes," Forner said, referring to the tag out at home and a pair of pickoffs earlier.

"I mean, Clark's got a good pickoff move - maybe not as good as Ryan because Ryan has one of the best ones I've seen - but if you lose a little bit of concentration on a pitcher who can get it over there quick, it can take you out of the inning and it did to us," Forner said. "Anytime you can get your lead runner on with less than two outs, you got something going but not if you're going to get picked off."

Barger said Madison was facing an equally challenging task against Grote and a Hilltopper defense that took away several hard-hit Madison balls on nice catches.

"It's a credit to David. He threw a nice game and got ahead of our hitters. He did a nice job and kept us off balance," Barger said. "We've been lacking in that area in a lot of innings this year. That one big hit to break the game open or that one big hit to take the lead we still struggle with from time to time but we had some nice swings that they made some plays on. Ethan (Leach) almost put one out of here that on a different night might have been gone. But we didn't make any mistakes in the field. No errors for us after what we looked like on Tuesday is a huge step up."

Anderson led the Madison hitting attack with a 2-for-3 night at the plate with a double and run scored, Kleopfer was 2-for-4, Sauley was 1-for-2 and Leach was 1-for-3 with a run scored. Barnes and Vaughn had an RBI each.

Higgins was 2-for-4 with an RBI to lead Shawe, Callis and Rhoten were both 1-for-3, Rios was 1-for-2 and Daugherty was 0-for-1 but had an RBI and a run scored.

Although not on their schedules at the start of the season, both coaches said the game was a good addition for the teams and fans and they want to keep the rivalry going.

"I think it's good. You might as well play. You're a mile away from each other, the kids know each other, the crowd gets fired up and it's a fun night so I don't see why we wouldn't keep it going," Barger said.

The game, originally scheduled for a 5 p.m. start, was moved back to 7 p.m. after a storm dumped about two inches of rainfall on Post 9 Field on Thursday. Forner said the players and coaches spent all afternoon and up until about 30 minutes before the game draining the field to save a game because both teams were looking forward to playing.

"Every single one of those kids and the coaching staff were over here getting this field ready. We put 40 bags of diamond dry on here to get the field ready," Forner noted. "These kids were working all the way up until about 30 minutes before game time so I was a little bit worried about them being a little tired."

Barger said the effort was appreciated - not just for the rivalry but also because both teams will benefit from playing a game like Thursday's heading into sectionals.

Barger also said he's pulling for the Hilltoppers to make a strong run in the upcoming Class A state tournament as his Cubs try to do the same in Class 3A.

"When I first took the job I talked to Matt and said it would be great for both of us to go as far as we can in the tournament," Barger said. "That would be great, this isn't a competition of us against them. We're not in their sectional. We play them one time and that's about it unless we play them in the MCIT so I hope they do as best they can and I want us to go as far as we can."