Usually a baseball game that features a pitcher’s duel means every single out, every single pitch and every single play holds great meaning.
That was the case on Friday, April 12 when the West Holmes Knights (9-1) hosted the Waynedale Golden Bears (7-3) in a battle of two strong programs.
In a long but low-scoring game that saw both coaches pulling strings and making moves, the Knights used a couple of late double plays to collect a 2-1 win in a contest that saw both teams make plays when it counted. Both coaches agreed the game was exciting to the final out, and both also agreed this is the kind of nonleague game they need to play to continue to improve their own ball club.
“They are a great baseball team, and we need to be in games like that, that are very tight, well-played, and fortunately many of those types of games have gone our way this season,” West Holmes head coach Bill Pim said. “Last year we seemed to find ways to lose those types of games, so it feels good to turn that trend around.”
Waynedale head coach Justin McDowell reiterated what Pim had commented on, noting that despite the loss his team can take away a great deal from this game including playing right alongside a much bigger school in the Knights, a team that is now 9-1 on the year.
“We know this West Holmes team is a good baseball team, and we have a lot of respect for what Bill has done with this program,” McDowell said. “These are the kinds of games that are only going to make us a better team. We came away from here with a lot of good things to talk about. It’s good to play baseball like this because it gets us ready for tournament time.”
Waynedale’s ability to put runners on base began in the first inning when Jaden Varner was hit by a Collin Reynolds pitch, Jeremy Keim singled and Matt Weaver singled to load the bases with one out. Zander Proper made a nice play to get a force out at home, and Reynolds worked out of trouble by recording a strike-out to end the inning.
Kenny Yoder toed the rubber for the Golden Bears and struck out three around a pair of walks in the bottom of the inning. Reynolds went through a strong second frame, and the Knights did something the Golden Bears didn’t do for most of the game: come up with a key two-out hit. Walks to Proper and Nick Morris put two runners on, but Adison Yates’ crushing line-drive went right to the right-fielder for out number one. Yoder recorded a strike-out but walked lead-off man Shane Jones on a full count, bringing Luke Vess to the plate. The hard-hitting lefty came through with a line shot over the second baseman’s head on a 1-1 delivery to give West Holmes a 2-0 lead.
“I like my team and where we are right now and our approach at the plate,” Pim said. “Their kid was a good pitcher who knows how to pitch. He kept us off-balance all night. Fortunately for us, Luke Vess came through with that clutch hit, and that was all it took.”
A walk and Matt Weaver’s single put two runners on in the third for Waynedale, but again Reynolds showed he could get outs when it mattered most by getting Tyler Wyatt to ground out to end the third inning. The game of threatening but not scoring continued in the bottom of the third inning when Shiloh Jones singled but was caught stealing and Reynolds singled followed by a walk to Proper. Again Yoder dug deep and got a key strike-out, and Yates then lined out to center to end the home half of the third inning.
An uneventful fourth led to a top of the fifth inning that saw Waynedale plate its only run. Jaden Varner singled, and after Keim sacrificed him to second base, Jarrett Varner singled sharply to right to trim the deficit to one run.
The Knights went down quietly in the fifth, and in the sixth the Golden Bears threatened yet again. Reliever Kendrick Wagler struck out the first batter but then hit Ethan Keim and Mateo Camacho. Cedric Chupp then lined a bullet to first, where Nate Ginsburg snared it and stepped on first to double up Camacho and end the threat.
Proper singled and got as far as third in the bottom of the sixth, setting the stage for a twin killing that ended the game. Jaden Varner was hit by Wagler to start the inning, but Wagler got a pop out, bringing Jarrett Varner to the plate. He smoked a two-hopper to second, where the Knights were able to turn a nifty double play to end the game in their favor.
“Those two double plays were huge,” Pim said. “On the one in the sixth, their kid hit a laser, and Nate made a play and doubled him off at first. Baseball is a funny game sometimes in that you can hit a ball hard and it doesn’t go your way.”
If there was one negative on the night for the Golden Bears it was that they stranded a lot of runners on base in the game, and in a 2-1 contest, that makes a big difference.
“We left a lot of guys out there,” McDowell said. “That hurts. We had so many missed opportunities, but you also have to give them credit because they made all of the plays they had to make. It was frustrating to leave that many guys on base, but we were happy that Kenny settled in after falling behind and threw really well.”
McDowell said one learning experience they can take from this game is that his hitters don’t have to put all of the pressure on their own shoulders when it comes to driving in runs; they simply need to do what they know they can do and allow their talent to lead the way.
“We need to work on creating more quality at-bats, and that is something that I know our kids can handle down the road,” McDowell said.