By Garth Shanklin – News Democrat
MACON — The Eastern Brown Warriors baseball team experienced quite the roller coaster ride this past weekend.
The team started last Thursday night with a conference tilt against Peebles. The squad jumped ahead 3-1 in the first inning, but Peebles struck for nine runs in the second to take what appeared to be a commanding 10-3 lead. If “win probability” is something you believe in, consider this: Peebles’ expected odds of winning the game at that point were 98 percent.
Never tell the Warriors the odds, however. Down 10-4 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Calder Holton singled to center and Ethan Battson drew a walk. Nick Kelch then singled to load the bases for Brady Klein, who promptly unloaded them with a double to cut the lead to 10-7.
Peebles scored another run in the top of the seventh inning to extend the lead to four, but it didn’t matter to Eastern. Holton singled to lead off the frame and Battson doubled. Kelch then singled in Holton, which sent Battson to third. Klein tallied another base-hit, scoring Battson.
After back-to-back strikeouts, Ethan Puckett reached on an error that scored both runners and tied the game at 11. Kyle Burbage then drew a walk ahead of Jacob Diener, who hit a hard ground ball into right field that scored Puckett and won the game for the Warriors.
Head coach Steve Goetz said he told the team that they were still in the ballgame and that he was proud of how the comeback was a team effort.
“After Peebles had the 9 run inning, I told the guys that as long as shut them down the rest of the way, I thought we would be in good shape to come back,” Goetz said. “We just needed to put good at-bats together and put the ball in play. We were able to do that and took advantage of a couple of misplays by Peebles. Ethan Battson came in and did a great job of holding Peebles to just one more run over the last 5 innings and gave us a chance to win. It was a great team effort — everyone contributed in the comeback.”
The team had a quick turnaround, as they hosted the Ripley Jays the next day. Somehow, Eastern held the Blue Jays to just one hit but three errors and seven walks turned into an 8-7 defeat. Brady Klein had three hits in five at-bats and drove in two runs, but the team could not complete the comeback and were held scoreless over the final three innings.
Goetz said the team’s hitting suddenly went cold due to a lack of focus, which attributed directly to their loss.
“I think we lost focus at the plate — we started taking a lot of good pitches and getting ourselves in pitcher’s counts instead of hitter’s counts,” Goetz said. “Once we got behind in the count, we started letting their pitchers expand the strike zone and were not having good at-bats — we ended up having 12 strikeouts in the game and when you do that, you don’t put much pressure on their defense to make plays.”
One of many quirks in the box score of that particular contest was the pitching line of Calder Holton. Holton allowed three runs, all unearned, on no hits and one walk in his 4.1 innings of work. Goetz said Holton struggled with some control issues but in the end the defense is what let him down.
“Holton did a good job of coming into a tough situation and getting us out of the inning,” Goetz said. “Unfortunately, when he went back out the next inning, he hit a batter and then we had a couple of errors behind him and without a hit, they put 3 runs on the board to go from a 6-5 deficit to an 8-6 lead. He struggled with his control a little throughout the game but the bottom line is we didn’t make enough plays defensively and when that happens, it doesn’t take a bunch of hits to score runs.”
The Warriors then returned to the diamond on Saturday for a road doubleheader against Paint Valley. The team lost both games by a total of 10 runs, dropping the first contest 13-3 and the second 14-7. Goetz said that in addition to the skill of Paint Valley, the Warriors’ pitching woes were the reason behind their defeats.
“With five games in four days, three of which were league games, we ended up in a situation where we used more pitching on Thursday and Friday that we would have liked and put ourselves in a spot where we had to use some less experienced guys on Saturday,” Goetz said.
There were also issues on offense due to injury, according to Goetz.
“We lost our catcher so we had to shuffle the line-up around and we lost one of top hitters,” Goetz said. “Despite all of that and despite losing both games, it was a good learning experience for us. We got some pitchers some experience against very good hitters and we were able to get re-focused at the plate, working on just having good at-bats – being aggressive in the strike zone and not getting ourselves in 0-2 or 1-2 type counts on a regular basis.”
The experience likely helped the team in their next game, a 7-2 victory over Peebles earlier this week. The Warriors trailed 2-1 until the top of the sixth inning, when the squad struck for five runs. Klein knocked in two runs on one hit while Kevin Schmid did the same. Eastern drew 11 walks in the contest.
A home conference tilt against West Union now awaits the Warriors. They will host the Dragons on Thursday, April 21 at 5 p.m. The squad then travels to Ripley for their next game on April 26.