Cougars’ best versus Dragons not enough
One of the first messages from skipper Cody Johnson to his Cougars’ baseball team was letting his boys know they played their best game of the season in the Class 3A North Harrison Sectional first round Friday.
The effort came against the class’ second-ranked team, Silver Creek. Held even at 1 through the first four frames, the Dragons scored one in the fifth to go ahead 2-1. Silver Creek added six runs with two outs in the sixth, taking off to an 8-1 win for a spot in the semi-final.
Playing the third game of a sectional-triple-header in Ramsey, the final out was record a little after midnight under the lights.
‘I told the guys this was the best game they’ve played from the first to the seventh inning,’ Johnson said. ‘Sometimes with the baseball gods, it doesn’t fall in your favor … Honestly, I’m glad the scoreboard is off. I won’t remember the score tomorrow. I’ll relax and enjoy the day because it wasn’t 8-1 in my head.’
Until the two-out barrage of runs in the sixth, it was nip and tuck between the Mid-Southern Conference rivals.
Lead-off hitter Alex Eveslage battled through a nine-pitch at-bat against Silver Creek starter Logan Murphy before winning with an opposite field single. A single by teammate Alex Flock pushed Eveslage to third where he would score on a wild pitch.
‘I moved Alex to the lead-off because of the way he can battle every single at bat,’ Johnson said. ‘He’s not over-matched with any pitcher. Him moving up really protected Flock and Konnor Voyles. It allowed them to see more pitches.’
Eveslage filled the top of the order spot once Jake Book was deemed out for the season with an injury last month.
North Harrison clung to the 1-0 lead with defense the next few innings in the field.
Flock and Paul Moberly up the middle rolled a double play to end the first.
Baseball life was lived on the edge for the Cougars in the bottom of the second. Silver Creek’s first three batters ‘ Murphy (single), Bryson McNay (double) and Sam Hartsock (walk) ‘ reached.
During the second, North Harrison snuffed out a pair of squeeze attempts by Silver Creek. Justin Brown, however, reached first for the Dragons, scoring courtesy runner Brady Latham when he was hit by a pitch. Brown later was picked off by North Harrison catcher Brett Rudolph when Tyler Wheeler failed to get down a bunt attempt.
Keeping the score at 1-all, shortstop Flock made a diving pick of a shot off Wheeler’s bat, firing to first to end the frame.
North Harrison put two runners on in each of the third and fifth innings by drawing four walks. Neither time produced runs for the Cougars. Murphy eventually gave way to lefty Sammy Barnett in the fourth for Silver Creek.
‘I thought we did well with their ace and got him out of there quickly,’ Johnson said. ‘We saw a bunch of pitches.’
Pick-offs continued to be a key play for North Harrison. Rudolph had another in the third, then starting pitcher Voyles caught McNay at first before he retreated to the bag.
‘We told the guys, if we can pitch well and play good defense, we will be in the game,’ Johnson said. ‘That’s exactly what we did, especially the first four innings. Brett Rudolph caught a great game behind the plate. The pitchers threw well.’
Voyles was game through the first five innings, working out of jams.
A lead-off single to Silver Creek’s Brian Campbell in the fifth forced Johnson to go with Jacob Morin in relief. With one out, Silver Creek plated Campbell with a sacrifice fly, giving the Dragons a 2-1 lead.
With two outs in the sixth, Silver Creek added insurance runs. Singles by Tyler Wheeler and Justin Brown brought Campbell to the plate. He lifted a short fly to left that dropped in between short and the left fielder.
With a break and momentum, Silver Creek saw six straight batters score runs, prompting the 8-1 final.
‘We knew Silver Creek would be a tough out,’ Johnson said. ‘I’m proud of our guys, one through nine and on the bench, because their focus was there’
The energy was definitely there for both teams. Plenty of yelling and cheering came from each bench in support of teammates. The late-night vibes pointed to an energetic atmosphere.
‘We wanted to out-loud them, out-hustle them, out-work them and see what happened,’ Johnson said. ‘We know they are a talented ball club.’
Johnson said his team lost a bit of pride a few games back. He said the pride and swag was back despite the setback.
The Cougars graduate a trio of seniors: Flock, Voyles and Kyle Ballew.
‘What our seniors have done, it’s a lot,’ Johnson said of the defending sectional champs. ‘They’ve been an important part of this team for three, four years. They will be missed.’
Against Silver Creek, the Murphy-Barnett combo limited North Harrison to four hits, one each by Eveslage, Moberly, Flock and Morin.
North Harrison 100 000 0 ‘ 1 4 2
Silver Creek 010 016 x ‘ 8 12 0
W ‘ Barnett, L ‘ Voyles.
2B ‘ Barnett (SC), McNay (SC).