Bluffers fall to Raiders
Pine Bluff/Mount Horeb still in good shape for the postseason
When it rains, it pours.
Not so much around these parts this summer, although Mother Nature has been kinder of late. But that's how the expression goes.
The Pine Bluff/Mount Horeb Home Talent League baseball team endured a monsoon in the top of the seventh inning of Sunday afternoon's game against rival Belleville, and unfortunately for the Bluffers, they couldn't bail out.
A leadoff walk, a Texas League single and a mental miscue loaded the bases with nobody out and the Raiders took full advantage, ultimately scoring five runs, breaking open a tie game and rolling to an 8-4, Western Section victory at Mount Horeb High School.
“They took advantage of their opportunities. They put the ball in play,” Bluffers manager Jerome Krantz said. “They have a nice team and we didn't have the best effort today.
Still, it was just the one bad inning that doomed Pine Bluff/Mount Horeb (7-4) against the rival Raiders (10-1), who have a date with Verona (11-0) on the league's final regular season Sunday in a contest that will likely determine the Western Section champion.
The Raiders’ uprising was sparked by No. 8 batter Leo Koenig, who drew a leadoff walk against Bluffers starting pitcher Tyler Vogel.
Then the Raiders got a little bit of good luck when No. 9 batter Nate Reuter failed to get down a sacrifice bunt attempt on two tries only to flare a two-strike pitch for a single. Leadoff batter Curtis Sheahan followed by reaching on an error, loading the bases for the heart of the order.
“I went to look to second to get the out, but then by the time I threw to first it was too late,” Bluffers shortstop Brad Kittoe said of the error in judgement that loaded the bases. “And then the wheels just kind of fell off there. They got some hits to fall and we didn't make the plays that we needed to make.”
The Bluffers died by a thousand paper cuts in the inning, as another error, another walk issued by Vogel and a hit batter by Vogel spelled the end for him in the frame. Belleville tacked on with a sacrifice fly from Brock Gilkes after Vogel departed and by the time the inning had ended, the Raiders led 7-2.
Pine Bluff/Mount Horeb did, however, answer right back. And rather loudly, too.
Mitch Marty drew a leadoff walk and then on a two-out, full-count pitch clean-up man Jerin Schubert sent one over the fence in right field for a two-run homer that made it 7-4.
“I just went to the opposite field and the ball flew off the bat,” Schubert said. “It felt good off the bat and it just traveled, I guess. It went out.”
Indeed, it did. And against one of the more feared pitchers in HTL in 6-foot-6 left-hander Justin Langley, no less.
Langley hadn't pitched all year, according to Krantz, but made his debut Sunday. And the 28-year old, a 16th-round draft pick by the Miami Marlins in 2015 who played some in the minors after being chosen, was greeted rudely by Schubert.
“He has a very nice swing and the wind tends to blow up here, and it blows to right,” Krantz said, acknowledging the wind which was in fact blowing steadily out to right. “He hit it well and got it in the air. I didn't know if it was gone, but I knew it was over the outfielder's head.”
That was the only damage the Bluffers could manage against Langley, though, going down 1-2-3 in both the eighth and ninth innings — on three strikeouts, a pair of groundouts and a pop out to shallow right.
Facing a pitcher the likes of Langley and needing as many runs as the Bluffers did in order to claw back was a daunting task, no doubt.
“There aren't many pitchers in Home Talent that can bring it 90 and throw a curveball wherever he wants to, which he can do,” Krantz said. “He is legit.”
Belleville struck first in the game, wasting no time mounting a rally as Sheahan and No. 2 batter Matt Everson reached on back-to-back singles to start the contest. Sheahan would come home on a passed ball to make it 1-0 and Everson scored on a fielder's choice to stretch it to 2-0.
But Pine Bluff/Mount Horeb evened the score in the third when 49-year-old Brad Kittoe came through with a clutch two-out single, driving in Anthony Handel and Schubert, who reached on a single and a hit by pitch, respectively.
“I was just hoping to get a fastball and he threw a fastball right down the middle for me, so it was nice,” Kittoe said. “I got a good part of the bat on it and hit it well. That was a big hit at that time in the game -- tied it up.”
In the end, though, the Bluffers couldn't overcome Belleville's big seventh inning.
They also couldn't overcome being shorthanded, as starting shortstop Jonas Kittoe — Brad's son — and starting catcher Finn Polman were both out.
“When you're missing two key parts of your line-up, that hurts. Jonas is our three hitter and he's been hitting the ball really well, and Finn's our catcher so now Tyler is pitching to a different catcher who hasn't caught him all season,” Brad Kittoe said. “When you're missing one of your guys up the middle it's a big deal.”
Krantz agreed, noting that the absence of the two starters had a domino effect.
“We had players playing out of position — playing positions they normally don't play — and that catches up with you once in a while," he said.
Despite the loss, the Bluffers still think they're going in the right direction as the playoffs loom.
Sure, they would have liked to knock off the rival Raiders and potentially gain a better seed. But they're already in the tournament and feel good about how they acquitted themselves Sunday -- the seventh inning notwithstanding.
“I thought we put the ball in play well. And the pitching's always been good, all year, and continues to be good,” said Schubert, whose homer was his third of the year. “So we should be good going down the stretch.”
BELLEVILLE 8, PINE BLUFF/MOUNT HOREB 4
Belleville .............. 200 000 510 -- 8 10 2
Pine Bluff/MH ....... 002 000 200 -- 4 7 3
Pitchers (ip-h-r-er-k-bb): Belleville -- Brandon Moldrum (W, 6-5-2-1-9-2), Justin Langley (3-2-2-2-6-1); Pine Bluff/MH -- Tyler Vogel (L, 6+-8-7-5-5-2), Scottie Gordon (3-2-1-1-3-2).
Leading hitters: Belleville -- Curtis Sheahan 3x5, 3 runs; Matt Everson 2x5, 2 runs, 2 RBIs; Drew Haack 2x5, 1 RBI; Tressin Kussmaul 2x4, 1 run, 1 RBI; Pine Bluff/MH -- Mitch Marty 1x3, 2B; Jerin Schubert 2x3, HR, 2 RBIs, 2 runs; Ryan Vogel 2x3; Brad Kittoe 2x3, 2 RBIs.