PANAMA CITY BEACH — Juan Ulloa didn’t subscribe to divine intervention, but he said there was little doubt a lost family member provided a sign for the Arnold baseball team.
Ulloa’s two-run double in the fifth inning helped the Marlins defeat visiting Bay 5-3 on Tuesday. He added a single and scored a run in the fourth to tie the game 1-1, while also being plated in a four-run fifth inning. His double gave Arnold a 3-1 lead and soon after the heavens opened with a moderate rain shower for about five minutes.
It was Ulloa’s first game of the season. He spent the past two weeks in California with his family for his grandfather’s funeral. Arnold, the defending District 1-5A regular-season champion, improved to 1-5, 1-2, while Bay dropped to 0-4, 0-2.
Arnold coach Mitch Kelly said Ulloa has been the missing ingredient for a young team that also was recently ravaged by the flu. The Marlins started the same last season and they won six straight district games to move into the tournament as the top seed.
“Last year we just started slow and this year we were lacking that little leadership,” Kelly said. “Then Juan comes up big for us in that inning and the rain came. He’s the big dog for us that all the other little dogs follow.”
Winning pitcher Sean Reichert drove in Ulloa with a two-run double in the fifth against Bay reliever Ben Tatum. Ulloa’s double came against losing pitcher Seth Walker, who lasted until one out in the fifth with seven strikeouts and two walks while giving up four hits and four runs.
Ulloa’s single broke up Walker’s no-hitter in the fourth. Reichert also had a no-hitter into the fourth and finished with two strikeouts and two walks before giving way to Justin Bynum for the save.
“Sean pitched a great game for us,” Ulloa said. “Then Bynum came and closed it down. It was a huge win.”
It also was big for Ulloa, who said he was happy to be playing baseball again after a trying few weeks. He didn’t think of the rain as a potential nod from above until it was relayed to him following the game.
“At that point I just wanted to get a hit,” Ulloa said. “I was happy I hit it for my grandfather and for my team.”
Ulloa and Arnold had to hang on to earn their first win. Bay loaded the bases with one out in the seventh when Bynum was inserted. He struck out Chris Rotton for the second out and hit Kristian Brogdon with a pitch on the helmet to plate Thomas Johnstone before JT Duncan grounded out to end the game.
Duncan scored on an Alec Gordon single in the fourth, one of four hits surrendered by Reichert. Arnold survived despite four errors.
The Marlins are at Gulf Breeze on Thursday. Bay hosts Marianna also on Thursday.