You can stay in games with good pitching and good defense.
However, to win contests, you must find a way to bring runners across the plate when the opportunities arise.
On Saturday evening, Shawnee State seemed to have the mojo working on the mound and in the field.
Starting pitcher Derek Moore, along with relievers Jesse James and Brady Knittel, were efficient as the trio allowed just six hits over 11 innings of work, with Moore throwing eight complete innings on his own. Their work, along with only one error all game from the Shawnee State defensive unit, allowed SSU to take a tough Pikeville unit to extra innings as the Mid-South Conference foes duked it out in a gritty battle.
However, despite the fact that Shawnee State arguably outperformed Pikeville in all areas, two solo home runs by Anthony Roberts and a three-run 11th frame that was kickstarted thanks to Roberts’ bloop single in left proved to be the nail in the coffin for SSU in a 5-2 loss to UPike at Branch Rickey Park.
For Chris Moore, the facial expression told the entire story.
“There were a lot of areas that we performed well in today,” Moore said. “We did well defensively, Derek (Moore) threw great, Jesse James was terrific in relief, and Brady Knittel threw very well, even though he took the unfortunate loss there at the end. Those guys, as a whole, deserved better, and for whatever reason, we were not able to push runs across the plate. It’s certainly frustrating.”
Shawnee State’s ace and senior hand from Wheelersburg, however, was terrific on the hill. Moore, who put together the aforementioned eight-inning, four-hit performance, struck out five en route to another excellent performance. He sat down the Pikeville side in order in four of the six innings that he pitched on the evening.
And even though Roberts drilled a one-run homer over the left center field fence to put Pikeville in front by a 1-0 tally to start the contest, SSU didn’t seem to be phased.
Behind Moore, the defense did its job, as the Shawnee State unit retired Pikeville on eight putouts and 13 additional popups to keep the contest well within reach.
“When you pitch well and play good defense, you typically win,” Moore said. “It was just one of those abnormal games where we had so many guys left on base and so many guys left in scoring position that it became frustrating at the end.”
Initially, however, Shawnee State looked to be in a position that would allow it to cash in on multiple occasions.
In the bottom half of the fourth inning, Chase Thurber drew a leadoff walk from the three-hole, and, two batters later, a Knittel double to center field allowed Thurber to advance to second base. Casey Claflin then followed with a two-run double to left center field that scored both Thurber and Knittel, with the ball glancing off of the top of the batter’s eye. Even with a ball that missed being a home run by inches, Shawnee State was still able to take a 2-1 lead thanks to the efforts of the trio, with Knittel, a West graduate, going 2-for-2 at the plate with three walks on the day.
“Both Brady and Casey have been coming on as of late over the course of the last few weeks,” Moore said. “They’ve been getting the barrel on the ball and hitting it with a little bit of power. Hopefully, those guys can keep it up. It’s going to make our lives a lot easier as far as driving runs across are concerned with the guys in the middle of the lineup who have power driving the ball in the way that they should. Casey got a little bit unlucky there in the fourth with the ball hitting the batter’s eye. It could’ve been a homer.”
From the sixth through ninth innings, Shawnee State put the leadoff batter not only on base, but in scoring position as Knittel and Brandon Reaman, who combined to go 3-for-4 with three doubles, five walks and a hit by pitch, all got on the basepaths due to their work at the dish. Reaman, the team’s leadoff hitter, went 1-for-2 at the plate with two walks and the drawn hit-by-pitch.
“Brandon is a senior who is a very, very good offensive player for us,” Moore said. “He’s a guy that I don’t even have to think about when he takes the field. I know what I’m going to get out of him, because he always provides us with good at-bats, he’s going to find a way to get on base, and he’s going to compete regardless of the situation. Brandon is a guy who is a very big part of our offense; we just need to find a way for our other guys behind him to pick up the pace a little bit.”
But to the dismay of the Shawnee State faithful, the Bears in blue weren’t able to break away.
Despite putting the leadoff batter in scoring position in each of the final four innings of play, and putting that same leadoff batter within 90 feet from home plate in the sixth, seventh, and eighth frames, SSU went 0-for-4 when said runner was at third base and 1-for-11 overall. The situation was compounded when Roberts hit his second homer of the game — a dead-center shot — in the top of the seventh, which tied the score and sent the contest to extra frames.
The struggles even continued in the 10th, as a pair of strikeouts killed SSU’s efforts to take the contest in the bottom of the frame despite Knittel’s efforts to draw a walk and move to second on a 1-3 sacrifice.
“Everything looks worse and feels worse when you’re not scoring runs,” Moore said. “You can go out and play what is basically a very, very good game, not score any runs, and feel terrible about it. It can be very, very frustrating and take the wind out of your sails a little bit.”
And in the top of the 11th frame, the lack of execution came back to bite Shawnee State in a major way.
After coming on in relief in the 10th, Knittel sat down the UPike side in order, and looked well on his way to doing the same thing in the top of the 11th frame after retiring the leadoff batter, Josh Bailey and striking out Travis Haen to quickly retire the first pair of batters in the inning.
Unfortunately, Justin Beaty had other plans. His single with two out brought Roberts back up to the dish, and the first baseman made SSU pay by dropping a bloop single in between three Shawnee State players near the foul line in shallow right field to score Beaty, who was charging all the way from first base with two men gone. A hit by pitch and an error allowed Pikeville to set the winning margin from there, as SSU was retired in order following a leadoff walk to Blake Marshall to end the affair.
“I think that guys were pressing at the end, and honestly, there’s not much you can do for guys who are pressing,” Moore said. “You can try to make them feel better, and you can try to take the pressure off, but they’re not stupid. They are grown men who know how the game has gone and who know that we’ve been leaving guys on base. It’s not easy, but on the flip side of that, you have to be able to go out and score those runs when they’re out there. You have to figure out a way.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7