It was doing the little things right that helped the Western Brown baseball team secure an 8-7 Southern Buckeye Conference-American Division victory over Clermont Northeastern last Friday night at Midland Field in the Reds Futures High School Showcase.
On the other hand, it was doing those same little things not so well that played a big part in the Rockets suffering their fourth loss of the young season.
The Broncos took advantage of every opportunity afforded them by a Rockets team that struggled to make routine plays while also executing their small ball offensive game plan to perfection before Alex Smith’s run scoring infield single in the bottom of the seventh inning capped off Western Brown’s first win of the season.
“They’re kind of like us. They have pretty good pitching but the defense is a little suspect at times and they haven’t gotten hitting,” Western Brown coach Brett Barber said. “We’re thankful we were a little more sound technically.”
Though the Broncos had taken advantage of opportunities and played small ball very well as they scored their first two runs on back-to-back bunts in the second inning, the Rockets seemed to be turning the game around in the bottom of the fourth inning trailing 4-2.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Rockets starting pitcher Tanner Sanders struck out three straight batters — the Broncos No. 3-4-5 hitters — to keep the deficit at two as the game entered the fifth inning.
“(Tanner) pitched well,” Rockets coach Mike Kirk said.
After pitching well the first four innings, Broncos starter Rich Burton ran into some trouble in the top of the fifth.
A walk, a bloop single and a hit batter loaded the bases for the Rockets with no outs. Rocket senior Aaron Wright then hit a low liner that hit Burton in the ankle. As Burton scrambled to grab the ball and try to get the force at home, a run scored before he could get the out.
With the Broncos still ahead by one, 4-3, and the bases still loaded and no one out, Scotty Ryan was brought in to relieve Burton.
After getting Sanders to pop out, Ryan hit a batter to force a run in, gave up a sac fly to Greg Warman and walked back-to-back batters to force in another run.
The inning, which featured just one hit, helped the Rockets take a 6-4 lead.
But they weren’t able to hold it for long.
Nickell led off the bottom of the inning with a single to right.
Sanders look to have the inning in control, however, as he struck out the next batter and got Lane Day to hit a grounder to the second baseman.
As the Rockets tried to turn two, the relay to first base was out of Warman’s reach at first base. The error kept the inning alive as Day ended up at second base when he could have been the final out of the inning.
And the Broncos again took advantage.
A triple to right center by Corey Carroll got Day in before Hiro Purdon hit a chopper to third base that ended with another throwing error and allowed Carroll to score to tie the game at six.
Another error, this time by shortstop Joey Cockerham on Nick Woodyard’s grounder, allowed Purdon to score and gave the Broncos the lead back at 7-6.
“Too many unearned runs. You get really good pitching and it’s hard to keep your composure through the better part of five unearned runs or six unearned runs or whatever it ended up being,” Kirk said. “That’s tough to come back from.”
It looked as if the Broncos were going to pull out the win as Ryan settled down on the mound and helped the Broncos keep the one run lead into the top of the seventh inning.
But with Bronco ace Caden Piatt on the mound, CNE sophomore Jay Teaney came up big.
His single to right field with two outs scored the game-tying run for the Rockets and kept them alive for the win.
“When we needed a hit, we got it when it counted,” Kirk said.
Tied at seven heading into the bottom of the final inning, the Broncos again took advantage of a CNE mistake.
Carroll lifted a routine fly ball to lead off the inning that the right fielder misjudged and allowed to fall for a hit. Carroll ended up at second base on the play.
With Carroll on third base after a Purdon sacrifice, the Rockets intentionally walked Woodyard and Piatt to load the bases to allow for a force out at any base.
“We’re going to have play small ball and that was it,” Barber said. “Bunting won us the game.”
Wright, who had relieved Sanders in the sixth inning, then struck out pinch hitter Devyn Wood for the second out before he to Smith to hit a grounder towards shortstop.
Cockerham fielded it cleanly and got the throw off on target but Smith hustled down the line and was called safe on a bang-bang play as Carroll scored the winning run.
“The grass is so high that all you have to do is put it in play and hustle it out,” Barber said. “And our guys are some of the fastest in the league.”
The win was Barber’s first as coach of the Broncos.