Raiders Sweep RWA Out of Postseason

Coker Gilbert fouls one off Friday at Holly Hill. (Photo/Kay Hensley)

Coker Gilbert fouls one off Friday at Holly Hill. (Photo/Kay Hensley)

HOLLY HILL (May 9, 2016) – The Eagles weren’t intimidated by the defending SCISA Class A state baseball champs. Sure, the top-seeded Raiders had scored 19 runs in a two game sweep of John Paul II Christian School, but Richard Winn had just wrapped up their opening series of the playoffs with a one-run road win at Wardlaw. They knew they could win a tight series, and they knew they could win on the road.

While confidence turned game one from an average afternoon outing into a supreme baseball classic, and while confidence turned a game two rout into a near rally, confidence alone would not be enough.

Feisty, hardscrabble play would make for a pair of close games Friday at Holly Hill, but the Raiders ultimately had the arms to prevail, taking a dramatic game one 1-0 and sweeping the Eagles out of the postseason 6-3 in game two.

“I think we gave them a surprise,” Eagles head coach Paul Brigman said. “I don’t think they expected us to be as competitive as we were with them. They’ve got a bunch of pitchers. We knew they had scored a bunch of runs in their previous games in the playoffs, so we knew it was going to be a huge challenge.”

Jacob Steele climbed the hill to work game one for the Eagles, delivering a masterful performance that was equaled only by his counterpart, Hanks Avenger. Steele faced 28 batters over seven innings, throwing 87 pitches, 60 of which were strikes. He gave up four hits, struck out three and walked none; his only free pass was a hit batsman in the bottom of the sixth. Steele’s curveball was breaking well into the seventh, keeping the Raiders off balance until the fatal final frame.

“(Steele’s curveball) was working really well,” Brigman said. “Whenever he’s able to throw the off-speed stuff well, it makes it hard to hit his fastball. He had everything working tonight. He did a really good job. We just couldn’t get any runs.”

Avenger, meanwhile, faced 26 Eagles – and struck out 14 of them. He gave up just three hits while throwing 87 pitches, 61 of which went for strikes. Avenger’s only freebie was a walk issued to Bryant Carvalho in the top of the fifth.

The Eagles scratched out a pair of two-out singles in the first, but went quietly and in order through the next two frames. Steele reached on an error with two down in the fourth, but was left stranded when Gunnar Hensley bounced one back to Avenger on the mound. Carvalho’s leadoff walk in the fifth also went for naught as Avenger delivered three straight strikeouts to silence the minor threat. Peyton Gilbert’s leadoff single in the sixth also bore no fruit.

In all, the Eagles stranded five base runners. They also played it very conservatively on the base paths with the runners that they had, daring not to tempt the arm of Raiders’ catcher Hagen Motte.

“This catcher (Motte) is a college-level catcher, and the game just dictated us being in a situation where we didn’t want to give away outs,” Brigman said. “We didn’t want to run ourselves out of an inning. Base runners were so few and far between in that first ballgame, when we did get guys on and did have the opportunity, we just didn’t feel like it was a smart move to run and possibly run ourselves out of an inning when we had something going.”

The Eagles’ defense backed up Steele admirably, with a pair of RWA errors costing them nothing.

With the game still scoreless going into the bottom of the seventh, Steele got Josh Siau to fly out to left, then Cooper Hopkins grounded out to short. Extra innings appeared to be in the offing when designated hitter Nick Strickland drove a grounder between short and third and into left for a clean single on a 2-1 count. Evan Boyd, pinch-running for Strickland, went to second on a wild pitch that made the count 1-1 on first baseman Andrew Siau.

Andrew Siau sent the next pitch into left for a single that sent Boyd to third, setting the table for Nate Bochette. Bochette then sent a 1-0 pitch sizzling down the third-base line for the game-winning RBI.

While the Eagles proved in game one that they could hang with the defending champs, the one-run hangover showed itself in game two.

“We kind of got down there in the middle of the second game when they put a few runs on the board,” Brigman said. “It’s tough not to hang your head in that situation. We did that for a minute, but everybody responded and we fought back and we were still battling in the seventh inning.”

Coker Gilbert allowed three base runners in the first before getting out of the jam without surrendering a run, but in the second he would not be so fortunate.

Josh Siau led off with a single, then swiped second – the second of seven total bases stolen by the Raiders in game two. Hopkins then laid down a bunt, but an errant throw to first by Gilbert not only allowed Hopkins to reach, it also brought Siau around to score.

The Raiders added two more in the third when Hopkins delivered a two-out, 2RBI single that plated Ott and Dylan Hill. Brant Shuler’s RBI single in the fourth drove in Bochette to make it 4-0 Raiders.

In the fifth, Avenger blasted a two-run dinger high over the right-field wall to make it 6-0.

The Raiders had base runners in scoring position in five of their six innings on offense as Gilbert tossed a 100-pitch complete game. Gilbert gave up eight hits, walking only one in the effort. Seventy percent of his pitches went for strikes.

“(Gilbert) was probably a little bit tired,” Brigman said. “We’ve used him an awful lot. We used him to close out the game Wednesday night (at Wardlaw). He probably did run out of gas about midway through the game. His fastball didn’t seem to have quite as much pop on it as it had in the past. But with that being said, he still battled and still fought hard and he was in there until the end.”

Shuler worked six full innings for the Raiders and faced three batters in the seventh before Motte came on in relief. Shuler struck out 12 and gave up four hits and a walk while throwing 96 pitches, 64 of which were strikes.

Down by 6, the Eagles mounted a rally in the seventh that ultimately drove Shuler from the mound. Back-to-back singles from Steele and Hensley set the table for Carvalho, who came through with a 2RBI double. Carvalho went to third on a passed ball and scored when Hunter Glisson reached first on a fielder’s choice. The fielder’s choice, a hard-hit ball to short, erased John Lewis who had coaxed a walk out of Motte.

John Coleman also sent a hot grounder to short, which spelled the end for Glisson but that earned Coleman first base. With two outs and the tying run on deck, Peyton Gilbert worked the count full before being called out on strikes to end the Eagles’ season.

“It’s disappointing that it’s over, but considering the team we had I feel like we accomplished a lot,” Brigman said. “I’m proud of the guys, proud of the seniors; they did a really good job of leading us this year. We got better as the year went along and I thought we were a pretty good team by the end.”

 

Game 1

RW: 0-0-0 0-0-0 0 – 0-3-2

HH: 0-0-0 0-0-0 1 – 1-4-1

PITCHING: HH – Hanks Avenger (W), 7IP, 3H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 14K, 26TBF, 87P (26B, 61S). RW – Jacob Steele (L), 7IP, 4H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB, 3K, 1HB, 28TBF, 87P (27B, 60S). HITTING: RBI—Nate Bochette (HH). LOB: RW 5, HH 7. Time of Game: 1:27.

Game 2

RW: 0-0-0 0-0-0 3 – 3-4-3

HH: 0-1-2 1-2-0 x – 6-8-2

PITCHING: HH – Brant Shuler (W), 6IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 12K, 25TBF, 96P (32B, 64S); Hagen Motte, 1IP, 0H, 0R, 1BB, 1K, 4TBF, 21P (10B, 11S). RW – Coker Gilbert (L), 6IP, 8H, 6R, 4ER, 1BB, 1K, 30TBF, 100P (30B, 70S). HITTING: HR – H. Avenger (HH); 2B – J. Siau (HH), Bryant Carvalho (RW); RBI – B. Shuler, H. Avenger (2), C. Hopkins (2) (HH), B. Carvalho (2), H. Glisson (RW). LOB: RW 6, HH 5. Time of Game: 1:45.