A cold, driving wind with gusts near 40 miles per hour did little to cool off the bats of the Highland Rebels, nor those of the Izard County Consolidated Cougars at Ash Flat City Park March 13.
The Rebs pounded out 10 hits on the afternoon, while the Cougars countered with eight, including a pair of round-trippers.
But on a day that looked like mid-summer but felt more like mid-winter, it was Highland's sticks that accounted for nine runs in the fifth inning, as the Rebs broke open a highly-competitive contest to push past ICC 15-9 in non-conference action.
With the wind whipping across the field on a line from first to third, the Cougars were the ones who logged the first runs in the blustery conditions.
With two outs in the top of the second, Scott Small placed a ball that dropped just fair behind the line at third base for ICC's first hit off Highland starter Chase Duggins. One hitter later, Jeremy Burns (RBI) jacked a double that slammed off the foul pole in left field, giving the Cougars two baserunners with two outs.
Those runners didn't stay on the basepaths long, thanks to a three-run homer off the bat of Jacob Grindle that gave the Cougars a 3-0 lead. Grindle paced ICC with five ribbies on the day.
Highland got one of those runs back in the home half of the second on a fielder's choice from Aaron Ramsdell (hit, two RBIs).
It looked like ICC might tack on a pair of runs to its 3-1 lead in the top of the third, but Highland backstop Caleb Orosz would have no part of that.
First, Orosz gunned down Dustin Noblin at second base, and then one hitter later, he threw out Adam Montgomery as he tried to swipe second after drawing a walk off Duggins, keeping the Cougars from a couple of potential runs.
The Rebels edged to within a single run, 3-2, in the bottom of the frame on an RBI-single to center from Duggins (two hits).
The Cougars made the score 4-2 in their favor in the top of the fourth as pinch-runner Anthony Shipman stole home on an overthrow of third base.
After playing catchup over the course of the first three innings, the Rebs finally caught up with ICC in the home half of the fourth by plating a pair of runs.
However, the biggest blow of the inning did not score a run.
Nick Poulsen drilled a line drive that hit ICC starting hurler Kyle McCandlis flush on the forearm of his pitching arm, with the ball ricocheting to center field. Despite the obvious pain, McCandlis regrouped and fanned the next Rebel batter for the second out of the frame.
Cody Morgan did get to McCandlis by jacking a hit to deep center that was dropped, allowing two runs to scamper home, locking the game at 4-all.
McCandlis did not return to start the fifth inning, replaced on the hill by Noblin. McCandlis fanned two, walked two and gave up five hits in his four innings of work.
Noblin found quite a bit of resistance from the Rebels, as Highland put together a big fifth inning by crossing the plate nine times after batting around in the frame.
Will Cox started the Rebel rally off by drawing a walk to lead off the fifth.
Cox wasn't on first long, as Kolby King doubled to deep left, plating Cox in the process. King paced Highland at the dish with a single, two doubles and three runs-batted-in.
With the bases full of Rebels, Orosz (two hits) then drove a seeing-eye hit that found its way between third and short, driving in two more runs.
Ramsdell drove a pitch into the dirt just in front of home plate, and on an overthrow of first, two more Highland runs came in to score. Noblin's mound time was finished after one-third of an inning, as he gave way to Small on the hill.
Taylor Bolt greeted the new pitcher with a hard shot that glanced off Small and plated Ramsdell and Morgan.
King then notched his second RBI-producing double of the game, followed by a hit to center from Billy Ninemire (two hits) that plated King, giving the Rebels a 13-4 lead after the fifth inning.
ICC wasted no time in showing it would not simply roll over without a fight.
Small led off the visitors' half of the sixth inning by blasting a shot that cleared the fence in deep left field.
Then, with the sacks full of Cougars, Noblin (two hits, RBI) brought Steven Walker home on a sacrifice fly to keep ICC clicking.
The Cougars' last run of the sixth came in on a misplayed ball off the bat of Adam Montgomery, making the score Highland 13, ICC 7 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Highland added a couple of more runs in the bottom of the sixth, the first via an RBI-hit down the third base line from Morgan, and the second thanks to a run-producing single from King that boosted the Rebs' advantage to 15-7 after six.
Duggins gave way to King on the hill to wrap things up in the top of the seventh. In his six innings of work, Duggins fanned two, walked five, hit two and gave up eight hits on his way to the win.
King had some trouble, loading the bases before Walker made his way to the plate. With no place to put him, King gave a free pass to Walker, walking in a run for the Cougars.
With the sacks still juiced, Grindle posted ICC's last run of the day by getting plunked to allow another run to walk home.
Morgan relieved King on the hill and got the final two outs with the bases still full, giving Highland a tough 15-9 victory.