By Frank Foreman
June 20, 2013 7:00 a.m. —
Sometimes when the bats just aren’t clicking, it takes a little small ball to win a baseball game. That theory held true Wednesday night for French Creek Valley, as it scratched and clawed its way to victory in a nine-inning thriller over Meadville, 7-6, at Eldred Glen.
In a game that traded leads throughout, it was the Creekers that forced the hand of Meadville via the bunt, forcing errors and continually taking advantage of their opportunities. Ironically enough, it was a good old-fashioned base hit that sparked a three-run ninth inning that proved to be just enough.
With the game knotted at 4-4 in the top of the ninth, French Creek Valley (3-2) leadoff hitter Mitch Wood walked to start the inning. After a ground ball out and a wild pitch moved Wood to third, Ryan Paden came through with a broken bat single into center field to give the Creekers a 5-4 advantage.
The one-run lead quickly turned into a three-advantage when a costly error by left fielder Justin Foister on a fly ball allowed two more runs to come across.
Meadville (1-4), as it had done all game, refused to roll over in the bottom of the ninth, as Foister bounced back and laced a single to right to kick off the frame. Later in the inning, Duncan Brode singled with two outs to score Foister to cut the lead to two runs. The RBI single was followed by a balk by Creekers’ relief pitcher Luke Carter that plated Trevor Miller to make it a one-run game.
Unfortunately for the Marauders, the rally ended there as Rovarre Morrow looked at strike three to end the game.
But it wasn’t timely hitting that was the problem for Meadville, it was the inability to field the ball cleanly, especially on numerous bunts throughout the game.
“The difference was the mental errors,” assistant manager Tyrone Brown said. “Fielding bunts were a problem. But overall we played as a team. We played hard and we fought back. That error in the ninth cost us some runs, but we lose as a team and we win as a team.”
Winning as a team was exactly what French Creek Valley accomplished, a squad that struggled to figure out Meadville starting pitcher Trevor Smith. It became increasingly difficult to piece hits together for the Creekers, which made the switch to small ball that much easier. That small ball included three consecutive bunts by the three, four and five hitters in the French Creek Valley lineup during the sixth inning, a move that tied the game at 3-3 during a stretch where no Creekers could put a ball in play.
“We don’t have a traditional three or four hitter that drives the ball deep, so we have to do those things,” French Creek Valley manager Brandon Crum said. “The bunt is in play every game, and we do it multiple times per game. We work on it, and I have faith in these guys to get the bunts down, and I’m really proud of them.”
For Meadville hurler Smith, it was a head-scratcher.
“I was a little surprised. I’ve watched these guys play for years, and I didn’t expect to see that,” Smith said. “But it was smart on their part, and small ball wins games.”
Smith was sharp early before French Creek Valley got on the board first in the second inning. Carter reached on an error, a theme in this game, and came around to score on sac fly to make it 1-0. Two batters later, Jake Digiacomo dropped a bunt single to plate to score Cole Baker to spot the Creekers with a two-run lead.
Meadville cut the lead in half in the third when a leadoff double by Matt Keenan led to a sac fly by Foister to make it 2-1 in favor of the Creekers.
Meadville took its first lead of the game in the bottom of the fifth when a double steal led to Miller scoring from third, followed by an RBI single by Brode to score Ted Williams to push the Marauders ahead 3-2.
That lead didn’t last long when one inning later, the barrage of bunts kicked in, a strategy that made a lot of sense to Carter, who wound up picking up the victory in two innings of relief.
“We just put the ball in play, and good things happen,” Carter said. “We know what to do when we get runners on base. Anybody in the order can bunt, and it makes the game a lot easier to score runs.”
Earned runs were hard to come by for Meadville as Digiacomo was sharp on the hill, allowing four runs in seven innings of work, fanning seven Marauders in the process.
Smith was sharper on the other side of the diamond for Meadville, as he pitched eight strong innings, allowing four runs, two of which were unearned, and striking out four.
“I knew they could hit anything you threw at them, no matter how hard you throw it,” Smith said of the Creekers’ lineup. “That’s what I focus on doing, and just allowed the defense to take care of it.”
Meadville’s defense didn’t do Smith any favors, committing four errors, many of which costing them runs.
Digiacomo was strong on the mound, and led the way at the plate for French Creek Valley, going 3-for-4 with an RBI. Drew Durasa and Trey Reagle also had multi-hit games.
Meadville was led by Brode, who went two-for-for with a pair of RBIs. Keenan and Foister both had two hits in the losing effort.
French Creek Valley scratched its way to victory, but all wasn’t lost on Brown, as he saw a lot of promise from his Meadville squad.
“The team is coming together,” Brown said. “We are young, and we are trying to develop continuity. I think this is the first step in becoming the team I know we can be.”