The term “must-win” is thrown around often in the sports world.
But such was the case for the Littlestown baseball team on Monday, as it entered its YAIAA-3 contest against Bermudian Springs in 10th place in the District 3-4A power rankings, clinging to the final playoff spot.
“We’ve been talking about it for weeks now,” Thunderbolts’ coach Robert Rohrbaugh said of the precarious playoff positioning.
Luckily for the the Bolts, they had an ace up their sleeves in form of starter Michael Henrie. After a bit of bumpy start, Henrie settled in to pitch five innings of three-run ball to help his team to a 5-4 victory over the visiting Eagles.
“I try to keep consistent and don’t let anything weigh down on me,” Henrie said of start. “It’s a lot pressure on the mound, so you’ve got to make every pitch count.”
Henrie worked out of around a pair of errors to shut down Bermudian (2-11 in Y-3, 3-14 overall) in the top of the first and Littlestown got to an early lead in its half when Nathan Thomas crossed the plate on a passed ball.
The Eagles fought back immediately in the top half of the second. Connor Shaw and Tyson Carpenter started the rally with singles before Carter Stuart tied the game with a double to right. One batter later, Bermudian took the lead as a throwing error allowed two runners to score and make it 3-1 after the top of the second.
The Eagles then went on to load the bases, but Henrie was able to force Ethan Beachy to ground out to end the threat.
“That was big,” Rohrbaugh said of limiting the damage. “That kept us in the ballgame and we were able to get in and settle down a bit and get back to the basics.”
An RBI groundout by Braden Unger cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom half of the inning and that’s when Henrie began to settle in. He retired the side in order in the top of the third, including a pair of strikeouts, and in the bottom half of the inning, the Bolts’ bats went to work.
Colby Hahn started the inning with a single before Ryan Jones walked to put runners on first and second. Dalton Small then laid down a picture perfect bunt to advance the runners and after a fielder’s choice to put two away, Bradin Peart tied the game with an RBI single.
A throwing error then scored Andrew Olvera to give the hosts a 4-3 lead and Peart came home on an infield single by Austin Ressler to put Littlestown up 5-3 after three.
“We’ve been working on our hitting after kind of hitting a speed bump here the last few weeks,” Rohrbaugh said of the rally. “We’re just trying to get guys driving the baseball again, because we were scoring a lot of runs early on.”
Henrie then retired six of the next seven batters he faced in the fourth and fifth innings with the lone runner reaching on an error. He finished the day having allowing three runs, only one of which was earned, on four hits to go along with six strikeouts against no walks in five innings.
The Bolts failed to extend the lead however, and Olvera took the mound looking for a six-out save. After working a scoreless sixth in which he retired the side in order, Olvera hit a bit of trouble in the seventh.
Stuart started the inning for Berm with a single to left before stealing second base. After a Dylan Myers flyout and Brock Carpenter strikeout, Dalton Reinert cut the lead to 5-4 on a line-drive single to center field.
With two down and the lead at just one run, Ethan Beachy stepped to the plate for the visitors. On a 3-1 count, Beachy hit a slow roller to Peart at shortstop. The Eagles’ batter narrowly beat out the throw to first to reach on a single, but Henrie, now in at first base, saw Reinert heading for third and delivered a perfect throw across the diamond to nail the runner and end the game.
“I saw him running when I was scooping the throw at first,” Henrie said of the game-ending play. “You don’t really see that too often so it kind of caught me off guard, but I think it was a good reaction and I tried to just make a good throw.”
The win moved Littlestown to 10-5 in the division, and more importantly 10-7 overall and eighth place in the D3 power rankings, two spots inside the cut line.
The Bolts now have just one more game on their schedule as they travel to 0-15 James Buchanan next Monday.
“We’ve just got to win, plain and simple,” Rohrbaugh said. “You lose and you’re probably going home.
Bermudian Springs 030 000 1 — 4 7 4
Littlestown 113 000 0 — 5 4 4
Tyson Carpenter, Connor Shaw (5) and Riley Martin. Michael Henrie, Andrew Olvera (6) and Ryan Jones. WP: Henrie. LP: Carpenter. SO-BB: BS-Carpenter 3-3, Shaw 0-1. L-Henrie 6-0, Olvera 2-0. 2B: BS-Carter Stuart, L-Colby Hahn.