On the back of Mountain Ridge’s pregame shirts there are no names nor numbers, just a quote.
“The best is the standard.”
To be the best you need to beat the best, and the Mountain Lions, in front of a packed house at home, were one run away from doing so. Entering the bottom half of the fifth inning, Mountain Ridge trailed Horizon 12-9.
The Mountain Lions put up three runs in the half to tie the game but a pop-up to right field stranded a base runner, leaving Mountain Ridge one run shy of the victory. The game ended after the fifth due to darkness.
Lance Billingsley, the Mountain Lions' head coach, viewed the contest as a growth game for his team. His team lost 11 players off of last year's state runner-up team and is playing three freshmen this season.
“They (Horizon Huskies) are obviously one of the best coached teams in the history of our state,” Billingsley said. “They’re going to battle, and we’re pretty good, so we’re going to battle and in my opinion it was a good game with two of the better teams going against each other.”
Despite a late inning comeback, Horizon coach Eric Kibler was not happy with his team’s inability to hold on to the lead.
“Once we took the lead, I’m disappointed with how we handled that,” Kibler said. “We should have won the game. We played scared and should have been in control. That last inning was a disaster.”
In the first inning of Thursday’s game, Mountain Ridge scored seven runs.
Six of the seven runs came without the opposition recording an out. Horizon’s starting pitcher Cameron Doherty allowed all seven runs off seven hits in only 2/3 of an inning. However, the previously undefeated Huskies would not go down without a fight.
After falling into a 9-2-hole, Horizon responded by scoring three times in the fourth inning and seven more in the fifth. The Huskies’ late inning surge was lead by centerfielder Evan Williams.
Williams finished the day with four runs scored, three runs batted in, and a solo home run in the third inning, which seemed to shift the momentum of the game.
“We were just trying to keep it rolling,” Williams said. “We got down but we knew we had to stay up. We just had to have good at bats and put the ball in play."
Kibler said Williams is a leader and impact is insurmountable.
“He brings it every day, he has since he was a freshman,” Kibler said. “If you have a lot of Evan Williams on your team you’ll win a lot of games.”
After Williams’ home run in the top half of the third, Mountain Ridge’s Trent Turner responded with a home run of his own.
“I was thinking just find a fastball up and let it fly,” Turner said.
Turner had two hits, driving in three runs to extend his team leading RBI count to 12.
Contributions from 16 different players allowed the 24 runs to cross the plate. However, Horizon pitcher Joel Thomas was lights out in his fourth outing of the season.
Thomas pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing just five hits and two runs.
Despite being at atop the standings, Kibler said his team has a lot of work to do.
“We’re an okay team right now,” Kibler said. “We have to get a lot better than we are right now.”
The tie to Mountain Ridge ended the Huskies’ opening season win streak at nine games. Mountain Ridge is 8-2-1.
Horizon’s next game will be played March 13 at home versus Cherokee Trail out of Aurora, Colorado as part of the Horizon Invitational. Mountain Ridge will travel to play 6-2 Valley Vista on Friday.