The best was saved for last.
It often is said that defense wins championships, and that was the case in Monday evening’s championship game of the Indiana Little League Baseball District 6 Coaches Pitch Tournament on the New Castle Little League lower diamond.
Hagerstown and host New Castle Green combined for nine runs in the first inning, but only a total of one run was scored over the next four frames. New Castle Green ended up winning 7-6 in a thrilling finish that fans of baseball had to love.
“We played Hagerstown in a scrimmage earlier this summer and they handed it to us pretty good,” a happy New Castle Green Manager Jack Howe said afterward. “But they showed us what we needed to do to be competitive with them at district. Our improvement since then really showed tonight.”
Hagerstown, who was undefeated in this tourney coming into Monday and had bested NC Green 20-8 in one of Saturday’s Pool B games, again was the guest on the scoreboard, batted in the top of each inning, and tallied four runs in its first at-bat.
Leading off the top of the first inning, Adam Murphy beat out an infield hit but was forced out at second base on Corbin Bulmer’s fielder’s choice grounder. Bulmer moved to second on Jace Hale’s single to centerfield.
Palmer Ward stepped to the plate and blooped a hit to short centerfield that plated Bulmer and moved Hale to third base. A throwing error on the play enabled Hale to score and Ward to get to second base.
Jase Cowan reached base on a fielding error with Ward taking third, and Ward scored and Cowan got all the way to third base after a throwing error on the play. Cowan scored on Bryson Muse’s 5-3 groundout for a 4-0 Hagerstown advantage.
Keegan McCormack followed with an infield hit, but was forced out at second base on Jude Doerstler’s fielder’s choice grounder to retire the side.
New Castle Green wasn’t about to let Hagerstown run away from it this time, and the Green responded by scoring five runs in the bottom of the first to grab the lead.
Leading off, Luke Hinshaw singled to left field and Calvin Cox followed with a single to short centerfield. A throwing error on the play enabled both runners to move into scoring position with nobody out.
After the next batter fouled out to catcher McCormack, Hinshaw scored after an error on Keegan Walter’s batted ball. Calvin Middleton stepped to the plate and got his first big hit of the contest, a two-RBI single to centerfield that drove Cox and Walter across the plate. Middleton took second base on the throw-in.
Middleton scored on Ethan Parrish’s single to centerfield to tie the game 4-4. Parrish scored all the way from first base for a 5-4 Green advantage after Korbyn Guffey’s single to right field and a throwing error, and Guffey got all the way to third base.
But the next two batters struck out and grounded out 4-3 to end the inning.
In Minor League Coaches Pitch, the focus is on getting the players to make contact with the ball and run the bases, but also to field the balls that are hit, and the defenses for both teams really stepped up over the next four innings.
Nobody got on base for either side in the second inning, as Hagerstown went down on two groundouts sandwiched around a fly-ball out, and New Castle Green was retired on two groundouts sandwiched around a strikeout.
Hagerstown went down 1-2-3 in the top of the third inning as the Green’s Kooper Rottinghaus and Hinshaw made nice fielding plays and the right fielder caught a fly ball for the third out.
“Give New Castle credit,” Hagerstown Manager Ryan Cowan remarked after the game. “We hit the ball hard but right at them, and they made the plays. They played really well tonight.”
New Castle did have a mini-threat going in the bottom of the third. With one away, Cox reached base on a throwing error, but was forced out at second base on Rottinghaus’ fielder’s choice grounder.
Walter singled to centerfield, moving Rottinghaus to second base. But the next batter struck out to retire the side and the Green didn’t score.
Hagerstown also threatened to score in the top of the fourth inning, but did not. Palmer Ward led off by reaching base on a throwing error. The next batter popped out to Rottinghaus, but Ward moved to second on an infield hit by Muse.
Muse was forced out at second base, but Ward advanced to third, on McCormack’s fielder’s choice grounder. With runners on the corners and two away, McCormack was forced out at second base on Doerstler’s fielder’s choice grounder to retire the side.
New Castle did squeeze out a run in the last of the fourth. Parrish led off with a bloop hit in the infield and reached second base after a throwing error on the play. Parrish advanced to third on Guffey’s groundout to the first baseman and scored on an error on Gabe Denny’s grounder for a 6-4 Green advantage.
Denny was stranded at first base after the next two batters struck out and lined out to first baseman Palmer Ward to end the inning.
Hagerstown went down in order in the top of the fifth inning on a pair of groundouts and a strikeout.
“Defense really won this game for us,” Manager Howe remarked. “We made a couple of errors here and there, but you have to expect that at this level. Our fielders made some good catches in the outfield, and our infielders made really good plays by scooping up balls and throwing them to a base for outs.”
New Castle threatened to score an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth, but failed to do so. Leading off, Greyson Huckaby reached base on a throwing error, but was forced out at second on Brycen Houser’s fielder’s choice grounder. Houser, in turn, was forced out at second base on Hinshaw’s fielder’s choice grounder.
With two away, Cox’s single to right field moved Hinshaw to second base. But the next batter popped out to Doerstler to end the inning and the threat.
Down to its final at-bat, Hagerstown rallied in the top of the sixth inning with the top of its lineup coming to the plate.
Leading off, Murphy singled to left field. The next batter lined out to the third baseman, but the throw to try and nail Murphy at first went astray, and Murphy got all the way to third base. Hale’s double to centerfield plated Murphy, and things began to get really interesting.
The next batter grounded 1-3 for the second out, but a throw attempting to tag Hale going to third again went astray, and Hale scored to deadlock the contest 6-6.
Cowan followed with a double to centerfield, and an infield hit by Muse put runners on the corners with two away. But Trevor Howe made a nice running catch of McCormack’s pop-up to retire the side and keep the lead run from scoring.
“We needed a hit right there, but we didn’t get it,” Manager Cowan said. “If we had gotten one, the outcome might have been different. But that’s baseball sometimes.”
New Castle Green wasted little time in ending the game in the last of the sixth. Walter led off by beating out an infield hit and Middleton stepped to the plate and belted the ball to deep centerfield for a double, enabling Walter to race around the bases and score the winning run for a 7-6 Green victory.
“Calvin was a little down after striking out with runners on base earlier in the game,” Manager Howe added. “But I told him to keep his head up, that he’d have another chance, and boy, he really came through when he did.”
The contest ended at 7:02 p.m. and took only 61 minutes to complete from start to finish.
New Castle’s Middleton and Hagerstown’s Cowan were named the MVPs after the game and before the awards ceremony.
“I was looking for a pitch over the plate between my waist and stomach,” Middleton said about his game-winning hit amid the celebration on the field afterward. “I got the pitch I was looking for and hit it. It was the first game-winning hit I’ve had like that, and it feels good.”
Hagerstown isn’t finished with baseball this year quite yet.
“We’ll play one more tournament this summer, in Richmond, and then get this team ready for Player Pitch next year,” Manager Cowan added. “That should be a revelation.”