ETTERS - The stage was set for the Big Valley 9- and 10-year-old all stars to rally and grab control of the Section 4 Little League championship game Thursday against Red Land. Instead, a strange double play completely swung the momentum and allowed Red Land to hang on and capture the title with a 3-2 win.
Trailing 3-2 in the top of the fifth, Marshall Maidens lead off the inning with a seeing-eye single to right. Colby Bodtorf replaced him on the bags following a fielder's choice and moved up to second on a wild pitch. Pitcher Ethan Eichhorn then singled to left, setting the table nicely for clean-up hitter Brycen Hassinger with first and third and one out. However, a quick and strong throw by Red Land left fielder Zack Sooy prevented Bodtorf from trying for home on Eichhorn's hit.
From there things went wrong for Big Valley when Red Land catcher Kaden Peifer gunned down Eichhorn trying to steal second and Brandon Kolmansberger's throw back to the plate was on the money to nail Bodtorf, who got a late break off third.
Sentinel photo by TIM?SHUMAKER
Big Valley’s Kaden Milliron, left, slides into home plate past Red Land pitcher Adam Cramer Thursday evening in Red Land for the Little League Section 4 title game.
"We figured if we let (the runner go) they would have two guys in scoring position," explained Red Land coach Nate Ebbert. "I had confidence in Kaden that he could throw him out and we would take our chances in a tie game with the top of our lineup coming up in the bottom of the inning, and then it worked out better than expected as we got both outs."
After a great shoe-string catch by center fielder Jake Cubbler kept Big Valley off the scoreboard in the first, Red Land had grabbed an early lead it would never relinquish in the bottom of the frame as Peifer's run-producing single to center got his team on the board. A throwing error at the end of the play allowed Red Land to extend its lead to 2-0.
Big Valley cut the lead in half with a run in the second as Kaden Milliron - who scored both of Big Valley's runs - lead off with an infield single and Cole Knable legged out a bunt for a hit. Milliron then came around to score on a pair of wild pitches which also allowed Knable to reach third. Red Land starter Adam Kramer buckled down however, getting a pop up and a pair of strikeouts to limit the damage.
Big Valley had base runners in every inning and had the leadoff man reach five of the six innings, but could only plate two of them in the contest.
"We just didn't get the key hits when we needed them and were not able to get the runs across the plate," Big Valley coach Gary Eichhorn said.
Red Land upped its advantage to 3-1 on the strength of back-to-back doubles to start the third inning by Kolmanberger and Kramer. However, Ethan Eichhorn bore down, getting two of his five strikeouts on the night in the frame to limit the damage.
A third inning walk to Peifer was the last Red Land base runner in the game as Eichhorn set down the last seven batters he faced to keep his team in the game.
"He threw a great game," Gary Eichhorn said. "All year he's been great. I told (him) he had to throw a good one today and he did."
Trey Kibe's fourth-inning RBI-double cut the Red Land lead to 3-2, but Big Valley could get no closer as Kramer again got back-to-back strikeouts to get out of the jam.
Following the stolen-base themed double-play in the fifth, Big Valley had one more shot in the sixth when Hassinger beat out a groundball that the first baseman had to range far to his right to field. However, Red Land reliever Brady Ebbert slammed the door to pick up a two-inning save.
"These kids played though," Eichhorn summarized. "They have nothing to be ashamed of. They have been a great group of kids to coach all year."