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Maxwell's heady play key to Cougars' title

by Mike Nutter

SPORTS WRITER

CHARLESTON -- Perhaps one day when Lincoln pitcher Levi Maxwell looks back on that unforgettable Friday afternoon at Watt Powell Park, the biggest moment he may remember might possible have been on a play with potentially the most peril.

Maxwell, the winning pitcher in the Cougars' 7-5 victory over Magnolia for the Class AA state championship, derailed a possible Blue Eagles' rally and sealed Lincoln's first boys state championship.

Leading 7-3, Maxwell and the Cougars were rolling along until Magnolia's Jonathan Kemp and Mike Carroll led off the seventh with a single and double, respectively, to put runners and second and third with no outs. Drew Cecil scored both on a base hit to right and advanced to second on the attempt at home, but that would be the end of any momentum the Blue Eagles might have gained.

Cecil tried to take third, but was thrown out on a perfect strike from Maxwell to third baseman Josh Hamilton to record the first out and more importantly, empty the bases.

"That was crucial," Maxwell said. "It got the bases empty and allowed me to pitch from the windup instead of the stretch.

"I was backing up the play (at home) and saw their player breaking for third. I made the throw and Josh was their to tag him out."

Maxwell, who had by then eclipsed the 100-pitch count, struck out the next batter, issued a walk and then got Jordan Schmalz to ground out to first to end the game.

"I really think that play took a lot out of them," Lincoln coach Tom Hunter said. "What a difference that makes when you've got no outs and a runner on third to being able to go from the windup and not have anyone out and are two outs away from ending the game.

"I thought that really changed the momentum of that whole inning."

n HEART OF A CHAMP: Seth Williams had come too far and languished too much to let something like an ankle injury keep him out of this game.

Williams, the Cougars senior center fielder, rolled his ankle in pregame warmups and had to be attended to by an on site trainer.

Williams tapped the ankle up, put the injury aside and promptly went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI.

"I just rolled it out there," Williams said. "It hurt pretty bad when I did it, but there was no way that I wasn't going to play in this game."

Hunter said Williams assured him he'd be in the lineup when the coach went to check on his center fielder.

"He looked at me and just told me to give him a second or two," Hunter said. "I was worried, but I knew he was going to play in this game."

n BOSTON CONNECTION: That final ground out hit slowly to first baseman Jason Richardson which ended the game, conjured up a vivid image for Maxwell -- one he's glad didn't become reality.

"We've had some bad luck here, and when that ball was rolling up to (Richardson), I started to think about that old Red Sox game when the ball went between (former Boston first baseman Bill Buckner's) legs.

"That thing just kept rolling and rolling, but it finally got there. But I knew Jason would knock that ball down. He's done a heck of a job defensively over there for us all year."

n FOR THE LAST TIME ... : Hunter probably wishes he had a dollar for every time he was asked during the state tournament about the hierarchy of his pitching rotation.

He hoped Maxwell's performance Friday gave further validity to what he's said all season.

"All week, I've been asked who our No. 1 is," Hunter said. "I honestly feel like we've been blessed with two guys we can send out there as our No. 1 pitcher.

"Wes pitched a tremendous game (Thursday), and you saw what Levi did (Friday). Both of them are tremendous competitors."

Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at mnutter@exponent-telegram.com