SMYRNA — Brandt Penuel had already watched the Smyrna High baseball team rally for four runs to send the game to extra innings.
So he wasn’t worried about a one-run deficit in the next inning.
Penuel’s two-RBI double in the bottom of the eighth delivered a wild walk-off victory as the Eagles knocked off defending state champion Appoquinimink 7-6 in a nonconference contest on Tuesday afternoon. Smyrna remained unbeaten on the young season at 3-0.
Trailing 6-5 heading into the eighth, the Eagles got the leadoff man on base when Shawn Dulin singled. Ryan Seymour bunted him over with a sacrifice to put the tying run on second with one out.
Cleanup hitter Jared Gillis was up next and blooped a soft flyball to left, which fell in for a single. That brought Penuel to the plate, who already had one RBI on the day.
The junior catcher smacked the second pitch of the at-bat through a strong wind into right, over the right fielder’s head, where it bounced up to the wall.
“I was just visualizing getting a base-hit to the gap,” Penuel said. “I wanted to end the game, to be honest, but I didn’t want to dip and try to hit a home run. It was just a fastball inside and I just dropped my hands on it. I was just hoping they would score.”
Dulin scored easily from second and Gillis was able to hustle home before the ball even reached the infield. Penuel kept running toward third, into the arms of coach Mike Henderson before his teammates joined him, throwing him on the ground for a celebratory dogpile.
“He usually hits the ball pretty solid but with this wind I didn’t expect that,” Henderson said. “He crushed that ball. We were just hoping for one run to tie it at that point and he obviously came through.”
The comeback in the eighth paled in comparison to what Smyrna had to do in the seventh to even force extra innings.
Appoquinimink scored four runs in the top of the seventh on a two-RBI double by John Weglarz before a two-run homer by Javon Fields. But the Eagles answered with four runs of their own in the bottom half.
Nolan Henderson began the rally with a double to the gap, Dulin punched a single through an infield hole and Seymour walked while Henderson scored on a wild pitch during that plate appearance. Gillis then singled home Dulin while Seymour advanced to third before Penuel lofted a single into right which scored Seymour to make it a one-run game as Gillis went from first to third on the hit.
Smyrna tied the game at 5-5 on a dropped third strike when Gillis bolted home on the catcher’s toss to first and was able to dive in ahead of the return throw.
“We just wanted to finish strong,” said Mike Henderson. “One of coaches got on them, whether we win or lose, we finish strong and with some heart. We obviously did that. So going into the eighth down one, that was nothing after coming back from four.”
“We had the top of the order up and we knew we could come back,” Penuel. “We weren’t doubting ourselves. Then we knew the top of the order was up again in the eighth, I just knew we could end the game there.”
The frenetic final two innings took away from what was a pitcher’s duel between Smyrna sophomore Jeremy Carrow and Appoquinimink senior Emir Garrett who allowed one run each before they were removed due to pitch count restrictions.
Carrow finished with six strikeouts in 5.2 innings of work. He also doubled in one of his two at-bats before he was removed from the game.
Smyrna, who doesn’t have another game during spring break, is hoping to keep up this hot start. The Eagles don’t play again until a key Henlopen Conference Northern Division contest against Dover High next Tuesday at Dover (4:15 p.m.).
“We’re trying to preach that it’s not about the team across the field it’s about us,” Henderson said. “If we play our game, we’ll be allright. Obviously it’s a big win because they’re state champs and it’s something we can build off of.”