The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

July 25, 2013

Graham's grand slam helps lift Miners to victory

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Joplin’s Brett Graham took care of that “just hangin’ on” feeling with one powerful swing.

Graham’s grand slam keyed a five-run bottom of the eighth inning as the Miners, extending a 4-2 lead, defeated Warrensburg 9-2 on Friday in the American Legion Zone 3 Tournament at Dick Birmingham Field.

The win moved the Miners (34-6) into the winners’ bracket final of the four-team, double-elimination playoffs at Hillcrest High School.

Hillcrest (16-24), an 11-10 winner against Glendale in the first game, faces the Miners at noon today.

Warrensburg (27-6) bounced back to eliminate Glendale (16-26) 10-3 and will play the Joplin-Hillcrest loser at 3 p.m. today in the losers’ final.

The championship round starts at noon on Saturday.

“Now, that was a big, big home run,” Joplin coach Drew Schulte said of Graham’s drive to left. “It took the wind out of their sails.”

Graham, whose homer was his fifth of the summer, also finished on the mound for fellow right-hander Tyler Fancher. They combined for a five-hitter.

The Joplin eighth inning began with a single by Rex Whisner and a sacrifice by Blake Brown. Colton Johnson reached on an error before Warrensburg right-hander Dylan Riley secured a pop fly for the second out.

But Chris Leonardi and Johnny Maturino were hit by pitches to force in a run and bring Graham to the plate.

“It was a great job all-around,” Schulte told his players after the game. “Tyler (Fancher) gave us the chance to win and Brett (Graham) came in to shut them down.”

Fancher (5-1) worked 5 1/3 innings and allowed one earned run. Graham permitted two singles in his scoreless stint in throwing 51 pitches.

Fancher also took a shot off a hip  — a single by Lauden Wheeler — in the fifth inning. He finished that inning and worked into the sixth before Graham relieved.

“Leonardi made two outstanding plays at shortstop, Tyson Hardee threw out a runner trying to steal and the infield turned a double play,” Joplin assistant Bobby Stackhouse said of the defense.

Joplin, which also got two doubles (the shot in the first missed by about a foot of clearing the fence) from Graham, scored three runs in the second inning.

Whisner drew a one-out walk, Brown reached on an error and Johnson blasted a triple to right center to make it 2-0. Hardee then ripped a single past third to score Johnson.

Joplin scored its fourth run in the third frame on a Graham double, a passed ball and a sacrifice fly by Tristan Ash.

Added Schulte: “We need to keep our focus with runners in scoring position in nine-inning games.”

The Miners, who had 10 hits, received two apiece from Maturino and Johnson in support of Graham.

Wheeler and Brad Long, who was 2-for-2, had two hits apiece for Warrensburg.

Schulte believes he has three solid choices to start on the mound in today’s noon game — left-hander Whisner and right-handers Ash and Brown

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