The pop of a mitt could be heard as a whizzing fastball was painted over the black on the outside corner. “Strike three, you’re out!” said the screaming home plate umpire. Innings zoomed by as hitters continued to flail at off speed pitches followed by heaters in the high eighties. When strong contact was made, the crack of the bat was followed by the crowd’s “oohs” and “ahhs” from a strong defensive stab.
Players on both benches were hooting and hollering for their teammate’s success at the plate, on the mound or in the field.
No one could relax as every single pitch mattered because it could change the outcome of the game. There was tension and excitement in the warm and breezy air.
One pitch, one error, one hit, one steal, one base-running blunder, one defensive gem or one coaching move could effect who wins and who loses. This is the nature of the one run game.
In two nail biting games against the Mount Vernon Nazarene Cougars, the Pioneer baseball team (21-6, 5-1 AMC) split a pair of one run games.
The conference match-up was highlighted by the men on the mound in the low scoring 5-4 win and 3-4 loss at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium Thursday, April 1.
In game one the Pioneers seemed on the verge of running the Cougars sophomore pitcher Kyle Barr off the hill as they loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the first. However, the Pioneers were only able to get one run across the plate with a sacrifice fly from senior catcher Alex Schmid.
“We had opportunities in that first game when we loaded the bases in the first inning, but we kept it a close game when we didn’t end up doing much with it,” said Pioneer head coach Tom Crank.
After a couple of scoreless innings, a homerun from Mount Vernon’s sophomore centerfielder Chaz Gibson knotted up the score at 1-1 in the fourth. The lead did not last long, though, as the Pioneers struck back with a run of their own to snatch back the lead in the bottom half of the inning.
The turning point of the game came in the last few innings as the Pioneers grabbed a commanding lead and then held on for dear life. In the bottom of the sixth, thanks to some poor play in the field and an error by Cougars freshman second basemen Jordan Doherty, the Pioneers scored three runs (all unearned) to take a commanding 5-1 lead.
In the seventh inning, with a chance to close out a dominating pitching performance, junior lefty Jeff Shenker (4-0 3.18 ERA) suddenly could not find the strike zone as he walked the bases loaded with two outs.
The Cougars took advantage of Shenker’s sudden loss of command by scoring two runs off a base hit that saw Shenker’s day end. After allowing another run to score, junior reliever Bryan Bayer closed out the 5-4 win with a strikeout.
In game two the Pioneers found themselves behind the eight ball early as the Cougars took a 3-0 lead behind some superb pitching by freshman Luis Baez. Until the fourth inning, and the second time through the lineup, Baez was throwing a no hitter.
The freshman kept the Pioneers offense lame through his 6-1/3 innings of work with different release points and speed changes.
“He threw from different spots and different arm angles,” said coach Crank. “He kept our guys off balance by throwing a lot of off speed pitches on good hit counts and we didn’t do much with him.”
Baez’s domination was fueled by his ability to throw strikes and work quickly.
“He had good velocity, would change his arm angles, but he just challenged us by pounding the zone and we just weren’t hitting him,” said junior second basemen Justin Shiflett who went 2-4 and recorded the first hit off Baez.
The game did not get close until the seventh inning, when the Pioneers made a bid for a final inning comeback. After many wild pitches and pass balls the Pioneers chased Baez from the game and ending up scoring three runs to cut the lead to one.
After loading the bases with two outs, sophomore shortstop Kyle Sprague came up with a chance to win the game. After a tough at-bat, however, Sprague was unable to come through as he popped out to center field to end the game.
The Pioneers had their chances in both games as they ended up leaving a combined 11 men on base. Clutch hitting just was not at a premium for the young Pioneer team, something necessary to come out on top in a one run game.
“It was too bad we didn’t have some more timely hitting,” said coach Crank.