COCOLAMUS - After some early struggles, a five-run fourth inning seemed to have dealt a strong hand to East Juniata in the Tigers' baseball season opener.
But when Millersburg came to the plate in the seventh inning, it didn't take long for the Indians to chip away at the lead - and take control of the game. The visitors sent 13 batters to the plate in the final frame and eight of them made it back before the third out was recorded; the sudden onslaught delivered the win for Millersburg, 11-6, in the Tri-Valley League contest.
East Juniata skipper Tim Brubaker said it was an outcome that was hard to swallow.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
East Juniata’s Nick Stahr, right, beats a throw to Millersburg catcher Christian Keiter on a Nick Lorenz double for the Tigers’ first run of the game Thursday in Cocolamus. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com
"It's really tough," he said. "We were doing real well going into the last inning. We just couldn't get the last couple outs."
The Indians were at the top of the order going into the seventh, but hitting wasn't what did the Tigers in until later in the order - it was walking.
Four of the first six batters in that inning were issued free passes; the last two were good for RBIs and a three-run East Juniata lead suddenly was a one-run Millersburg deficit. Connor Keim, who doubled in three of his four plate appearances, had the lone hit in that stretch; a pair of strikeouts had two outs on the board and, with a new pitcher in for the Tigers, the obvious hope was a quick third out and a win.
The pitching change, from Bailey Coder to Mason Hambright, was a difference that pulled an ominous 6-7 senior off the hill in exchange for a freshman. But it had to be done, Brubaker said.
"Bailey has been nursing a bad shoulder from basketball," he explained. "We wanted to let him go as long as he could. He was throwing very effectively. I think he just got tired.
"I may have stayed a little long with Bailey. But I thought, we had a couple-run lead and he was doing real well. He had control of the situation."
Hambright walked one of the runs in and recorded a strikeout for the second out, but then found himself struggling as batters were stretching their time in the box with fouls, and taking advantage of cold and tired fielders.
"We put him in a bad position with bases loaded. He gives up a couple hits and that's the ball game," Brubaker lamented.
A stretch of three base hits and an error combined to score the final three runs for Millersburg, and the Tigers were in a hole. Two of the deep flies were mishandled, perhaps because of slower reaction as the temperature dropped with the sun, perhaps a lack of response by fielders to be where the batters hit the ball last.
"Not to make any excuses, but basically we've been out two times this spring," Brubaker said. "I was very pleased with the way we performed in the field."
The Tigers got just one runner aboard - a walk - in the final turn, making the final result.
East Juniata matched Millersburg's first-inning run when Nick Stahr drew a walk to open and crossed the plate on a Nick Lorenz double. In the fifth, Coder and Hambright walked to start; RBI singles by Jared Shirk, Stahr and Jeremy Pannebaker, along with a Kyle Hart fielder's choice that plated a run and a bases-loaded walk issued to Chas Maguire lifted the Tigers into a 6-3 lead that carried to the seventh.
East Juniata (0-1, 0-1) will host Juniata Wednesday.