MOUNT ZION — For a moment, both Mount Zion and Shelbyville rushed the field believing their team had pulled out a clutch play.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, the Braves’ Derek Flaugher topped the ball to the third base side. After Shelbyville bobbled the ball, Dylan Dunn crept around an outstretched tag to reach third moments before Bailey Reynolds crossed home plate to give Mount Zion a 4-3 come-from-behind victory.
The Braves (7-3) came into the ninth tied 3-3, and had Reynolds to lead off. Reynolds had been pinch-hit for in the fourth, but when he was called to come back to the plate in the seventh he punctuated the moment with a lead-off single to left field.
“Once I came in, I knew if I’d get on, we’d win,” Reynolds said. “(Assistant coach B.J.) Rotz came up to me and said, ‘You do the job, we’re going to win.’ ”
Then the count reached 0-2.
“I felt like I had something to lose, but at the same time nothing to lose — (I’m the) No. 9 hitter,” Reynolds said.
That approach was exactly what Mount Zion coach Matt Smith was looking for.
“Give credit to my boys for battling and not giving up, two strikes — our two-strike approach has just been unbelievable,” Smith said. “We just battled there and were able to put it in with two strikes, and that’s what I try to preach. Try to get the ball in play with two strikes and something is going to happen.”
A pair of miscues on Mount Zion bunts loaded the bases with no outs, but Shelbyville pitcher Andrew Hawkins struck out Connor Wilhoit looking and forced Grant Geisler to pop up.
Hawkins then forced a slow grounder that scored Reynolds.
“We made some mistakes in that last inning on bunts, but I mean you can’t speak enough to what Andrew Hawkins did right there,” Shelbyville coach Sam Mehl said. “You got bases loaded and no outs and he strikes out a kid out, gets a short pop-up to left field and then right there, we were in position to get out of it. We had it.”
The Rams (6-1) found a solid effort from left-hander in Eli Miller on the mound who shut down the Braves for all but one inning — the fourth. Mount Zion scored three runs on four hits, but didn’t manage a single hit in the other five of work from the Shelbyville pitcher.
“We knew we had our hands full with Eli Miller,” Smith said. “We were hoping that we were going to see him. He plays for the Decatur Commodores in the summer so I’m familiar with him, and he’s a heck of a pitcher. We were fortunate early in the game to get his pitch count up there and battle some at-bats.”
Finding a spot
Mount Zion’s Sam Olson isn’t overpowering — he’ll be the first one to tell you that — but the senior right-hander added another quality start to his 2013 resume on Wednesday. With a couple of wins already this year against MacArthur and Kaneland, Olson has emerged as a solid option in the rotation after throwing just 15 innings last year.
Smith said the senior is polished enough to consistently throw strikes, and can be extremely effective when keeping batters off balance.
“They started to hit the fastball around a little bit, so I got a little bit off-speed over on them,” Olson said. “Coach has been working me out with a cutter this offseason and that was more-so my go-to pitch. So, I got that across the plate a lot today and off-speed — I’m big on off-speed. Just get those over and it’ll be a good day.”
Mount Zion has an explosive offense, and it’s just a matter of time before it can bunch a few hits together. But defensive play in consecutive early innings kept Shelbyville close enough to reel in.
In the second, the Rams’ Garrett Manship hit a rope to the first-base side with a runner on first and no outs. But Grant Geisler quickly reacted to snag the ball and caught the Hawkins in a double play, eliminating what easily could have been first and third with no outs. Not to be outdone, Colton Calhoun caught a fly ball in center and had a perfect throw to third to gun down Miller at third to record the second double play.
“Yeah, Colton’s got a great arm. He’s got some speed, he’s got good arm strength,” Smith said. “We were fortunate with Eli Miller — he’s a 6.6 runner in the 60, he’s got some wheels. So that’s a good play getting it to third to end the inning.”
Mehl admitted there were a couple plays he might have pushed a little too hard.
“That hurt us there. I was a little overaggressive on the basepaths a couple of times,” Mehl said. “We ran out of the inning a couple of times on the basepaths, and it didn’t work out.”
“I was really looking forward to this game because I was telling these guys, it’ll really tell us how good we are. I think we’re a really good team, and this will tell us where we’re at. And I think it showed us we can compete with anybody.” — Sam Mehl