Big Valley 9-10s fall to Red Land, 10-8

ETTERS – Pitcher’s duel? No – the opening round game of the Little League Section 4 9-10 tournament was anything but.

Hitting clinic? Oh, yeah – the ball spent a lot of time in the field Monday. Unfortunately for Big Valley’s baseball all stars, the last team to put it there effectively was the host.

Red Land came out on top of a seesaw 10-8 finish. Today, the locals will play New Bethlehem (District 7), which fell 5-1 to West Suburban (District 11). The District 6 champs take on the other winning team to see who drops next to the elimination bracket.

Big Valley spent the District 5 tournament hitting the ball, and that’s how it started the game against Red Land. Colby Bodtorf, Kaden Milliron and Cole Knable all had base hits in the opening half – the latter two for RBIs – and Ethan Eichhorn hit a run-producing double to make it 3-0.

But, in an ominous sign of the defense Big Valley would have to play against for five more innings, the effort ended when Trey Kibe sent a laser beam between second and third that Red Land shortstop Jaden Henline pulled in, and then made it a double play because Knable was already on the way to second and couldn’t beat the ball back to first to tag up.

Red Land picked up a run in the bottom of the first on two doubles by Adam Cramer; an inning later he hit the second to plate a run and another two-bagger by Jake Cubbler made it a 5-3 game in favor of the home team.

“We didn’t play very good defense today,” Big Valley manager Gary Eichhorn said. “All through districts we played tough defense. We probably gave them five runs today.”

Big Valley went back after the lead in the third and found it with a four-run effort with some help from the opposition. Ethan Eichhorn walked and scored on an error that Milliron hit into then Milliron drew a throw to second on a steal attempt, which opened the door for Brycen Hassinger to come in from third.

Then in a huge plate appearance, Brody Schnell – who came off the bench and fouled off several pitches – delivered a two-run double that lifted Big Valley back into the lead.

“That was a great hit. He had great at-bats today,” Gary Eichhorn said.

It didn’t last, though – Red Land drew a couple walks, and base hits by Braden Kolmansberger and Cubbler put three more on the board and all but clinched it.

Big Valley tied it briefly in the fifth when Ian Hartzler walked and was the beneficiary of two errors on the way around. But with bases loaded and two out, Red Land escaped the threat.

Kolmansberger and Cubbler – who went 4-for-4 – both had hits in the fifth that helped Red Land score twice to break the stalemate and make the final.

Two late-game plays became controversial among the local fans, one over a call that was made and the other because one wasn’t. In the fifth, Red Land’s Kaden Peifer and Ethan Eichhorn collided on the base path between first and second; interference was not called against either player. The score never changed as a result of the play.

In the fourth, with one out, Eichhorn smacked a rocket to center field, but Cubbler was there to make the catch. Bodtorf, who singled and was on first, had come back to the base then left again for second, but was ruled not to have tagged after the catch and was put out, effectively creating a double play to end the inning.

“I don’t know if that was a game changer, but I believe they missed that one. I saw him go back,” Gary Eichhorn said. “That could have been a difference because we still had the No. 4 guy coming up.”

The pitch count became a problem for both teams, which used a combined seven pitchers in the game. Big Valley starter Ethan Eichhorn and Hassinger, second on the mound, both went to the 50-pitch plateau and Bodtorf threw 25.

“We’re definitely going to have to think about that now, but we’ll fight back,” Gary Eichhorn said.