Saturday, March 24, 2012

Payoff Pitch on Lookout Mountain

High on top of Lookout Mountain Georgia, Crown came up just short in their bid to stage a second straight walk off victory Saturday. Down 4-1, the Knights scored a run in the fifth, then three straight singles to lead off the bottom of the seventh put them in great shape for the comeback.

But Ray’s dribbler back to the pitcher forced the first out at the plate. Pinch-hitter Ryan then hit a routine grounder to the third-baseman, who fielded the ball cleanly. The fielder looked to throw home, then changed his mind and threw to first…too late. Franklin scored on the fielder’s choice. In his first varsity at bat of the season, Caleb Norman worked the count to 2-2 before popping out to the first baseman in foul territory.

Two out, bottom of the last inning. Bases loaded. Tying run on third. Winning run on second. At bat: Will Murphy.

Knoxville Ambassadors pitcher David Bowers had only allowed six hits in the first six innings, striking out five good batters (Patrick, Braeden, Perry, Casey, and Sam) while walking none. Sitting behind the plate, I witnessed a masterful pitching performance. Bowers changed speeds, mixed pitches, threw inside and outside, high and low. If Patrick crowded the plate he buzzed him inside. If Sam set up far from the plate, Bowers nibbled on the outside corner. Bowers also had numerous deliveries: overhand, three-quarters, sidearm, and submarine. Sometimes during his delivery he even turned his back to the batter, like Gene Garber of the Braves.

The pitcher had a good teacher: Knoxville’s coach was ex-big leaguer Lee Guetterman, who pitched for several MLB teams, including the Yankees. Guetterman was a teammate of Crown left-fielder Casey Disney’s dad at Liberty University.

Bowers won the first two confrontations with Will by getting two strikes, then not giving him anything to hit. In the top of the first Will pulled a chopper foul down the third base line, took a ball outside, and took an inside pitch that the umpire called strike two. Forced to protect the plate, Will swung at a curve ball. He hit it solid, but not too hard: a line drive to the centerfielder.

In the third inning Will worked the count full, and then hit a line drive up the middle. Bowers threw up his glove in self-defense. With extreme rotation on the ball, it suddenly slowed…and settled into the pitcher’s glove for the out.

As the time limit drew near, Crown needed runs. Will led off the sixth inning determined to hit the first good pitch he saw. After a ball high, Will stroked a single up the middle. With Braeden, Perry, and Casey due, things were looking up for Crown. But Braeden was having the same struggles with Bowers, and he weakly popped out foul to the first baseman. On base Will was being careful, staying close, and then getting a larger secondary lead. Perry pulled a hard, low line drive on the first pitch he saw. Will’s lead had him leaning toward second, and on the hit he took another step toward second. But the line drive had been hit straight at the third-baseman, playing even with the bag. Making the catch, the third-baseman fired across the diamond to double off Will at first.

At third base Will played flawless defense, throwing out four runners at first base. He was also the middle man in a bizarre 2-5-4 putout to end the third inning. With a runner on first, Andrew uncorked a wild pitch, that bounded all the way to the distant first base on deck circle. The runner on first advanced to second, and then made a wide turn. Catcher Patrick chased down the ball and uncorked one of his patented unneeded wild throws, this time all the way across the diamond to Will, covering third. Will had to leap to catch the throw, and then he fired to second to catch the runner off third.

Covenant College has a breathtaking mountaintop campus, located just south of Chattanooga on Lookout Mountain. On the way up we passed the Incline Railway and Ruby Falls. The finely manicured baseball field was located just south of the campus. Foul balls fell far down the western slope of the mountain, and any home runs would go down the eastern side. The sun played hide and seek with the clouds, giving us fans a taste of the chilly mountain air.

Slender sophomore reliever Andrew came in and kept Crown in the game, working quickly and retiring the last eight batters he faced in order. This set the stage for the climatic Crown seventh inning.

Sticking to his successful sixth inning strategy, Will swung at Bowers’ first pitch, but missed. He fouled off the second pitch, putting him in the hole. Then Bowers tried to get Will to Chase an outside pitch, but Will resisted. Bowers’ 87th pitch was a slow, low, sweeping curveball. Later Will said is was a definite strike. Will had to wait on the pitch, shifted his weight forward, swung…and missed. Ball game.

No comments: