FRANKLIN FURNACE — Conference baseball.
You gotta love it.
With excellent conditions that included a temperature that rose to a cozy 81 degrees and nothing but clear, blue skies in the forecast, a SOC I battle between the Green Bobcats and the Clay Panthers was bound to be a good battle.
However, if anybody had predicted that the gauntlet of the contest would’ve ended in the way that it did, the people in question would have to be considered psychics.
With the bases loaded, one out in the bottom of the tenth, and darkness looming, Green’s Derrick Brown launched a pop fly into shallow center field that was caught by Clay’s Keith Cottle.
But while Cottle’s throw, and the resulting relay by Brody Riffe, was right on target, Rylee Maynard was determined to end the game right then and there. Maynard, who was charging all the way from third base, made it safely to home as the ball at home plate was dropped thanks to the resulting speed that the junior carried as he went by, allowing the Bobcats to take home a thrilling 6-5 victory over the Panthers in 10 innings on the campus of Green High School on Monday evening.
For Dan McDavid, his kids’ character was the winning ingredient in a tight and gritty affair.
“Our kids showed a lot of resiliency tonight,” McDavid said. “It was a baseball game. (Brody) Riffe is an excellent pitcher, and he challenged us all night long. Their lefthander (Dakota Dodds) came in and pitched pretty well too. However, we got excellent pitching in our own right from Tanner Kimbler and Trevor Carver. We made some plays, and Clay made some plays. It was just a good baseball game.”
As for Keith Cottle, the third-year Clay hand concurred with McDavid on the game itself. The disappointment of the final result, however, was evident — and understandably so.
“Both starting pitchers (Brody Riffe and Tanner Kimbler) were outstanding tonight,” Cottle said. “They say baseball’s a game of inches, and you saw it happen right here tonight. From the sixth inning on forward, we just couldn’t get that key hit where we were able to get the go-ahead runner across.”
To start, however, it was the Panthers who put the pressure on the Bobcats early on.
After a single to right field by Grant Hempill started off the affair, Riffe’s 1-3 sacrifice allowed Hempill to move into scoring position. Drew Hadsell then followed with his own base knock, and McGwire Garrison was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
However, behind a Kimbler strikeout, it looked like Green would be able to tightrope out of danger — until Keith Cottle stepped up with a critical base hit. His single to left field allowed Hempill and Hadsell to come around and score as Clay took an early 2-0 lead after an inning of play.
Green wasn’t phased.
Behind an infield error, a single by Hayden Whitis, and a double steal by Whitis and Trevor Carver, Drew Ramey was able to come up two batters later and lace a single to right field that scored Carver. Whitis, however, wasn’t as fortunate, as the sophomore was caught up in a wild 9-1-5-2 putout, and a Riffe strikeout allowed Clay to maintain the advantage, 2-1, after two innings of play.
In the third inning of play, Clay increased its advantage to a two-run tally again as a single by Hadsell and an error allowed the Panthers to increase the lead to a 3-1 margin.
But behind its powerful lineup at the top of the order, Green stormed back once more.
After a leadoff strikeout by Riffe, a single from Kimbler, a walk by Tyler Darnell, and a wild pitch allowed Trevor Carver to drive in Kimbler and Darnell with his critical base knock to center that knotted the score at three apiece.
The Bobcats then continued their groove in the fourth inning as Maynard drew a walk, stole a base, and advanced to third on an error. A well-placed 2-3 sacrifice RBI bunt by Dawson Blevins allowed Maynard to score, and an infield error on the throw home in an attempt to gun Maynard allowed Jacob McKenzie to advance to third.
As a result, McKenzie — who courtesy ran for Ramey — was brought home by Kimbler on the latter’s base knock to right field as Green turned a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 advantage in a matter of an inning and a half.
“At the plate, Tanner and Tayte Carver have crushed the ball in their last two or three at-bats in the last couple of games, but have been unlucky in the sense that they’ve hit it right at the defense,” McDavid said. “Trevor Carver brings an excellent bat as well, and we’ve really got guys that are stepping up throughout our lineup.”
From the fifth inning forward, however, it was all Kimbler and Riffe on the mound.
Other than an error by Green and a sacrifice fly by Reece Whitley that allowed Clay to tie the score after six innings of play, neither team got more than one baserunner on through the rest of the regulation innings and in the eighth frame as the multisport SOC I standouts went back-and-forth on the mound.
Overall, it was hard to tell who did better. Riffe, who went eight full innings on the mound, allowed just three earned runs on six hits while collecting a 3-to-1 (nine strikeouts to three walks) strikeout-to-walk ratio. Kimbler, meanwhile, went nine full innings on the hill and allowed four earned runs, but struck out 11 batters and only walked two to post a 5.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Both pitchers combined to throw 244 pitches on the hill.
“Tanner was strong,” McDavid said. “He did a great job, both at the plate and on the mound. He was at 123 on the pitch count, so I had to take him out (late in the game).”
“Overall, we played pretty good defense, and we didn’t walk a lot of guys on the mound,” Cottle said. “We’ve just got to get over that hump, and we haven’t got there yet. We’re a young team. We’ve just got to keep our heads up, keep battling, and we’ll improve as time goes on.”
Movement, however, began to take place in the latter frames.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, drawn hit by pitches, courtesy of Blevins and Tayte Carver, along with a walk to Tyler Darnell, allowed Green to load the bases up. Dakota Dodds, however, showed his mental toughness by retiring Trevor Carver, who batted in the cleanup slot, via a 6-4 groundout to escape unscathed.
After Clay put a runner in scoring position via an error and a sacrifice bunt, Trevor Carver responded by striking out Hadsell in relief, which brought up the bottom half of the Green order in the 10th frame.
Initially, it looked as if the contest would head to an 11th frame as Whitis was retired via a strikeout.
However, the next sequence of events changed all of that.
After an error allowed Rylee Maynard to reach via an error, the second baseman stole second and quickly advanced to third base as the throw sailed high of the second base bag. A walk to Ramey and a bloop single by Blevins allowed the Bobcats to load the bases — which set up the dramatic finish.
With the count full, Derrick Brown — who had reentered for Imes in the designated hitting slot, popped up a ball to shallow center field, which was caught cleanly by Cottle.
Cottle’s throw, along with the relay throw from Riffe, were also clean, as Maynard sprinted home in an attempt to score the winning run. While the ball beat Maynard to the plate, the tag, however, was dropped, which allowed Maynard to come across as the game’s winning run.
“Right there at the end, (Keith) Cottle fielded it good, and we obtained a good relay throw,” Cottle said. “However, (Rylee Maynard) was able to knock the ball out with the momentum that he carried as he went by.”
“We’ve got two designated hitters (in Brown and Tyler Imes), so I wanted to get them both some at-bats tonight,” McDavid said. “Derrick just happened to be the one that came up and put the ball in play. Good things happen when you do that. As for Rylee, he’s led us in a lot of different ways. He’s done a super job and is getting better every game. He’s played excellent at second base all year long and is starting to come around at the plate, as well.”
For both coaches, the contest was chalk-full of promising building blocks that Cottle and McDavid can take away as they go forward with their respective programs.
“I’m proud of my boys,” Cottle said. “Green’s one of the best teams in the league, and we were right with them all night long. We’ll host them again on Saturday and try to get the win at home.”
“We’re just going to continue to play them one at a time,” McDavid said, “and go from there.”
With the 6-5 victory, Green continued its roll as the Bobcats improved to 6-2 overall and 4-0 in the SOC I. Clay fell to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in the SOC I with the loss. The Panthers will be back in action tomorrow in a home affair with Ironton St. Joseph, while Green will host South Gallia on Wednesday evening.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7