VALDOSTA –– Pinch runner Ethan Bush slid past Chiles pitcher William Kilduff in a plume of red clay to score the go-ahead run as Valdosta defeated Chiles 6-5 on Tuesday night.
The ‘Cats (11-2) trailed 3-1 heading into the fourth inning before slowly mounting a comeback. After getting out of the top the fourth, Valdosta scored on another wild pitch then a Briggs Bennett RBI tied the game at 3. McCann delivered another RBI to score to put Valdosta ahead 4-3 heading into the fifth.
The Timberwolves (2-3) opened the top of the fifth with hots bats as Tyler Gerteisen, Garrett Greene and Mason Sanford got consecutive base hits to load the bases. A sac fly by Cal McCallum scored Gerteisen to knot the game at 4 runs apiece. The Timberwolves weren’t done there. Following a Zach Holcomb strikeout, Kilduff delivered an RBI single of his own to give Chiles a 5-4 lead.
Jude Ard led off the bottom of the fifth with a double before Avery Stephens and Lamonte Lindon grounded out for a pair of quick outs. Justin Rome smashed an RBI single and put on the burners to beat the throw to first to reach base. Rome tied the game at 5 before getting picked off at second to end the inning.
“Our kids just never quit and that’s one characteristic about this team –– the competitive nature of them and getting the job done,” Valdosta coach Brad Porter said. “We were very, very confident, even though we were behind, that our guys would put an inning together. We’ve done it all year. We’ve put big innings up and put crooked numbers up as we like to say. Down 3-nothing, still early in the game, is something we feel like we can overcome.
Porter praised the Timberwolves, who come from Tallahassee, Fla. and play in District 1-8A. Porter cited the Timberwolves’ pitching and defense as qualities that present challenges for his team.
“Chiles is a good baseball team,” Porter said. “They’re a region-type opponent for us and that’s why we scheduled them. We want to play good baseball teams and they’re gonna win a bunch of doggone games. With the arm that they had, they threw their best pitcher at us tonight to start off the game. He did a great job of spotting his fastball, mixing in breaking ball and change-up. They don’t make mistakes defensively, so you know you’re gonna have to play great baseball and that was the challenge to our guys.
“I told our guys, ‘That’s a good baseball team, so let’s have fun right here and just play baseball with a team that’s very disciplined, very fundamental and we can’t make any mistakes.”
Despite committing three errors in the game, the ‘Cats kept the Timberwolves quiet in the top of the sixth. Reliever Chris Scarborough got Jaxson West to fly out before giving up a single to outfielder Sam Rudd. Scarborough got Gerteisen to fly out for his second out of the inning and even though he walked Greene to put two men on with two outs, he struck out his next batter to get out of the inning.
When the ‘Cats made their go-ahead push in the bottom of the sixth, it took a combination of solid hitting and taking advantage of a pair of costly mistakes by the Timberwolves. Elijah Guilliams led off with a single followed by a Scarborough sac bunt that moved pinch runner Ethan Bush to second base. Jackson McMillan was plunked by Kilduff, who then allowed Cory McCann to get a base hit and walked Colby Thomas to load the bases.
“For Elijah to get on to lead off that inning, it was huge,” Porter said. “Once we got him on, Chris did a great job of bunting a guy over and then Jackson gets hit. We feel very, very good about Cory McCann in that situation, runners on first and second with one out. Cory grounded out to the short stop and still put us in a first and third situation.They put Colby Thomas on and I was hoping they’d let Colby hit, but they put Colby on and I’m so confident in what Jude Ard can do. Ultimately, they threw the wild pitch, we scored the run and they ended up putting Jude on base as well.
“With the top of our order coming up, if the bottom of our order can get on, that’s how we’ve started a lot of our big innings and we’re very confident in that situation as soon as I saw the bottom of the order get on base.”
Bush, who has delivered in the clutch several times already this season, scored the winning run and helped extend the ‘Cats winning streak to six games.
Playing with a lead, the ‘Cats still needed to seal the deal in the bottom of the seventh. Scarborough got McCallum and Holcomb to ground out quickly, but walked Kilduff to put the potential game-tying run on base. Porter elected to pull Scarborough in favor of Cooper Samples, who got first baseman Wyatt Dodd to fly out to end the game. According to Porter, pulling Scarborough was calculated rather than stopping any potential bleeding.
“(The decision was) two-fold,” Porter said. “We planned on throwing a lot of pitchers tonight limited pitches just as tune-ups for Friday night’s region contest. Chris was getting to the threshold, he wasn’t there, but he was getting to the threshold we had established for him. It was a feel thing –– I just felt like Cooper Samples, right in that situation, that’s his kind of moment.
“It was mostly a feel thing somewhat, due to the pitch count but mostly just because I believe in Cooper Samples in that situation. He’s produced for us last year in that same spot, he’s produced for us this year, so we’re gonna keep putting him in that spot because we feel good about it.”
Valdosta hosts Houston County (6-6) Friday at 6 p.m., which will be only the second region game of the season for the ‘Cats. The Bears defeated Starr’s Mill 3-0 on their home field on Tuesday and will face Warner Robins today before seeing the ‘Cats on Friday.
“Houston County’s a good baseball team,” Porter said. “They’re gonna come in here hungry, we’re hungry and it’s going to be a good matchup. It’s gonna be a game that, if you’re a true baseball fan, it’s going to be a good baseball game to watch. They come with two outstanding arms and a very good lineup so we’re just gonna have to get in there and play good baseball. We’re gonna have to pitch well, we’re gonna have to hit well and it’s just one of those contests where you’ve got to play good baseball and the team that doesn’t is probably gonna walk out with a loss.”