FRANKLIN FURNACE — When a unit comes out and plays to its utmost potential, that aforementioned unit can be a tough one to handle, regardless of the opposition.
On Friday evening, the Green Bobcats’ baseball program left no doubt as to its potential ceiling in all areas.
A two-hit gem from Tanner Kimbler — who held a perfect game up through four full innings — along with a defensive gem of a play from Tayte Carver and a red-hot one-through-nine batting order, allowed Green, who fell to the Clay Panthers’ baseball program by a 3-1 tally on Wednesday evening, to exact revenge on their SOC I foe by claiming a 10-0 victory in five innings on Friday evening in Franklin Furnace as the Bobcats took a one-game lead in the championship standings with two conference games left in the regular season.
In Dan McDavid’s eyes, the veteran head coach couldn’t ask for much more out of his experienced and poised unit.
“We put the ball in play and played outstanding defense,” McDavid said. “Tayte was outstanding at shortstop, and Tanner pitched a super, super game. Our kids hustled, hit the ball, ran the bases, and the result is an excellent team victory where everybody contributed from top to bottom.”
As for Marc Cottle, Friday proved to simply be one of those days where Clay was simply beat by a better team.
“The bottomline is that we had a setback today,” Cottle said. “We didn’t come to play. All credit goes to Green. They got a really good team, and they came to play today. We had a really tough game (on Thursday evening against Notre Dame), and we just didn’t come to play (on Friday). I’m still very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far this season, and I’ll always be proud of the kind of kids that they are. If you had told me at the beginning of the season that we’d be 15-4, I would’ve taken that all day long. We’ll regroup and come back ready to go.”
From the opening pitch, Green proved to be in command due in large part to Kimbler’s effectiveness on the bump. The senior ultimately obtained five strikeouts and didn’t allow an extra base hit while continuing to bring improved velocity from last season en route to the complete game two-hitter.
Kimbler was aided in the top of the third inning when Dakota Dodds, who hit a screaming live drive back up the middle of the plate, was robbed of a base hit on a beautiful play by Carver, who quickly made two steps to his left from his shortstop position en route to snagging the line drive on a diving play right out of the air. The Green defense continued to make the remaining routine plays en route to not committing a single error on the evening.
“Tanner was out there battling,” McDavid said. “He threw a really good fastball today and had great command of his breaking pitches. Then, when you have the defense playing like it did (on Friday), that’s just a recipe for what we saw (on Friday).”
“I give credit to Green,” Cottle said. “They’re well-coached. Tanner Kimbler pitched a heck of a game, they made good plays behind him, and that’s all that you can say. He’s a heck of a pitcher and a heck of a ballplayer. I’ve been watching that kid play since he was six years old, and he’s a dandy.”
However, the offense also did its job, and then some.
In the opening inning of action, Rylee Maynard’s leadoff single and an error got the ball rolling for Green as Maynard and Kimbler each made it into scoring position, and were brought in on back-to-back RBI base knocks from Carver and Bryce Ponn. Mason Barber’s sacrifice fly RBI pushed the Bobcats’ advantage to a 3-0 tally after an inning of play, and in the third inning, Kimbler — who singled and stole a base to lead off the third frame — was brought in again by Ponn, who delivered with his second RBI single in as many at-bats to give Green — who successfully stole a base in each of its four attempts on Friday evening, three of those coming in the first three innings of play — a 4-0 lead.
“We immediately start out the game by retiring them in order, then follow that by putting up a three-spot,” McDavid said. “That really shifts all of the pressure to their side, because our guys are playing free and loose after that inning, and are putting runs up when they were needed.”
The fourth inning, however, was where the Bobcats really exploded out of the gates.
After an error on a hard-hit ball by Hayden Whitis and a drawn walk by Caden Brammer, Eli Webb’s picture-perfect bunt single down the third base line loaded the bases, and after a strikeout, Kimbler and Carver were plunked by pitches on back-to-back at-bats as Green not only kept the bags full, but struck out two batters in the process. A drawn walk by Bryce Ponn allowed the Bobcats to extend its lead to a 7-0 tally without even having to put a ball in play with the bags full up to that point.
However, Green wasn’t finished. After a 5-2 groundout kept the bases loaded but put Clay within one out of limiting further damage, Mason Barber, along with Whitis, the leadoff hitting in the inning, came up large as Barber shot a two-out base knock that found the outfield grass after traveling through the left side of the infield to score Carver and Ponn, while Whitis launched a hard-hit single to right field to score Levi Singleton as Green (11-2, 9-1) set the final score behind its massive six-run fourth frame.
“We took advantage of a couple of hit-by-pitches, and at key points, we’d lace a single through the infield or into the outfield,” McDavid said. “Part of that success, however, goes back to running the bases. We have really emphasized running the bases this year, and the kids have really caught onto it. We’re doing it really well right now.”
With one gone in the fifth frame, Bradley McCleese and Clay Cottle tried to get a rally going as the Panthers (15-4, 10-2) — needing a run to avoid the mercy rule — got singles from both players, with the former surviving an incredible diving attempt from Singleton that fell out of his glove as the freshman fell to the ground, and the latter scratching out a single on a well-placed bunt attempt. Kimbler, however, quickly extingushed the threat by obtaining a 4-6-3 double play to seal the win for Green and allow the Bobcats to officially control their own destiny as far as the SOC I race is concerned.
“In the game of baseball, sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall your way,” Cottle said. “Today wasn’t our day. We’ll come back, regroup, and try to get better. Hopefully, we’ll get a decent seed (in the postseason draw), and will just keep working from there. Then next week, we’ve got Whiteoak, Valley, Wellston, and Rock Hill, so if we don’t play well next week, we could lose all four of those games. That’s a tough schedule, but I purposely scheduled it that way because that schedule is what is going to get us ready for the postseason.”
While Clay’s SOC I regular season slate is over, the Panthers still have plenty to play for. Clay, who likely won’t be seeded any lower than No. 2 in either one of the Division IV Southeast District brackets, has its aforementioned gauntlet that will be a test to where it is at going into the postseason run. Plus, if the Bobcats do happen to slip up, the Panthers want to represent the league by playing its best baseball at the end of the regular season.
“Green has to play a couple of games (against East and Symmes Valley),” Cottle said. “They’re probably the favorite in both games, but you never know. Baseball is a weird game.”
As for McDavid’s club, a Monday bout against East and a Friday contest against Symmes Valley is all that stands between Green and an outright SOC I title for the second season in a row. Winning just one of the two bouts will mean a share of the title with Clay, but the Bobcats’ main desire is to keep the SOC I trophy all to itself.
“Anytime we’re in SOC I play, we’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game,” McDavid said. “We’ve got to bring our game. Tonight was the way that we play. We’ve got to bottle that up and take that into VA Memorial Stadium, when we play East, and on Friday evening, when we play Symmes Valley.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT