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Rodriguez Leads Zion Comeback Over Sheridan Hills

Zion Lutheran’s Shaquille Rolle connects for a single in the fifth inning.

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Held scoreless midway through the 2A regional quarterfinal by host Sheridan Hills, Zion Lutheran junior catcher Elijiah Rodriguez helped spark a huge rally to lift his team to victory on Monday afternoon. The Lions backstop slugged a solo home run in the top of the fourth to open the flood gates, and Zion erupted on offense to storm on to a 11-4 victory over the Sharks.

The Lions (5-10-1) advance to a Tuesday meeting at Boca Christian in a 2A regional semifinal. The Blazers advanced on a bye after winning the district championship over Zion last week to earn a rematch with their district rivals, a team they lost to at the same point in the playoffs a season ago. The two teams played a tie in their first meeting this season, before Boca Christian took the next two games in convincing fashion.

After fighting several pitches off in a 2-2 count, Rodriguez opened up on the seventh offering he saw as the leadoff hitter at the dish in the top of the fourth. The result was a towering blast to deep center field for the longball that tied the score at a run apiece, before the Lions opened things up by batting around the order and scoring six runs in the inning.

“At the time I knew that I had to jump on the ball and try to lift up the team and get everyone hyped up so they could start doing their jobs,” Rodriguez said. “When I saw the pitch I knew it was coming right down the middle and I could handle the ball, so I just swung, made good contact and followed through with everything. Everything went to plan. It feels really good now that we get to play tomorrow. We didn’t want to go home early.”

With the rest of the Zion lineup fired up by the blast, the team went to work to take the lead and then build on it. Ben Mathiot had an infield single that landed him on second following a throwing error, before he advanced to third on a groundout to the right from Ben Bamber. Nash Williams reached on a fielder’s choice and quickly stole second base, and just like that the Lions had a couple of ducks on the pond. Zack Johnson followed with a fielder’s choice that pushed Mathiot home for a lead the team would not surrender.

Zion kept things going by loading the bases with a walk to Javian Moreland. Williams came in on a balk call, Johnson on an error and Paul Rolle and Marco Pinto followed with RBIs to increase the lead to 6-1.

Sheridan Hills shortstop Caleb Wilson avoids the tag at the plate for an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the first inning.

An inning later Rodriguez again led off with a big hit, smacking a double deep to the left field fence on a hit that barely stayed in the yard. Mathiot delivered an RBI single to plate Rodriguez, and later scored on an infield error. Bamber reached on an infield single, and also scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Moreland.

Mathiot led all hitters by going 3-for-4 with a double, two runs and two RBIs. The right-hander also picked up the win with three solid innings of relief of lefty starter Paul Rolle. Paul Rolle struck out five hitters in two innings, and was also 3-for-5 at the plate. Pinto added three strikeouts in two innings of relief for Mathiot.

The Sharks (2-16) opened an early lead in the bottom of the first. Shortstop Caleb Wilson connected on a 2-1 pitch and drove it deep to the right field corner, as he then turned on the jets and raced all the way around the bags for an inside-the-park home run and a 1-0 advantage.

After falling behind, Sheridan Hills battled back with three runs in the bottom of the sixth to extend the contest and give the team a chance for a miraculous comeback. Kyle Haskell, Nick Reyes and Rodrigo Alva all reached to load the bases, and Lazaro Beiro connected on a liner to right field that drove in Haskell. Jason Ketcherside came through with a drive deep to center that pushed Reyes home on the sac-fly, and Alva scored on an RBI from Sam Santos.

The left-handed Pinto ended any hopes of things getting any closer by retiring the Sharks’ final four batters to seal the victory.

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