Needing at least one win against Piqua to have a shot at the GWOC North title, Troy delivered in impressive fashion Monday at Hardman Field.
The Piqua Indians had an impressive batting practice session prior to Monday’s game with Troy.
One after another, Taylor Huebner, Taylor Welbaum, Andy Draving, et. al. sprayed line drives all over the gaps and far reaches of the Hardman Field outfield. Needing but one win in the next two days over the Troy Trojans to capture their first baseball league title in 20 years, the Indians gave every indication of being a focused, confident group.
Enter Devon Alexander, Troy 5’7″ senior pitcher, long on enthusiasm and leadership, and not to be confused with one of the great hard throwers of the 21st century. In exactly 1 hour and 48 minutes, Alexander turned Piqua’s focus and confidence into frustration and some probable doubt. Using a mix of first-pitch strikes with his fastball and command of his breaking pitches, Alexander simply gave the Indians little or nothing…to hit.
“He’s a very impressive young man,” said Troy coach Ty Welker after the game. “He’s a great leader and he’s very competitive. I knew on the bus trip up here that he’d go seven innings today, and he did.”
Like a surgeon working at his craft Alexander scattered just six Piqua hits over those seven innings, surrendering a lone run in the bottom of the sixth when the Indians bunched three of those hits to score third baseman Colin Lavey…the run batted in on a single by second baseman Brian Marsh.
“He really did a good job of keeping the ball away from their hitters,” said Troy pitching coach Heath Murray. “Taylor Huebner and the middle of their order are very aggressive and Devon just didn’t give them much to swing at.”
With so much on the line…Piqua vying for its first title since the Rick Gold coaching era, and Troy, looking for some baseball redemption of its own, having not won a GMVC or GWOC title since the mid-90s…Monday’s game represented a veritable meeting of minds for these two proud programs.
For Troy, how to come back from their seventh-inning meltdown 24 hours earlier at Fifth Third Field, when the Trojans squandered a 3-2 lead by giving up three unearned runs in the top of the seventh in losing to Fairfield.
For Piqua, a season of highs and lows…brilliant in conference, befuddling out of it. 10-9 on the year before Monday’s game, Jared Askins and the large supportive crowd that filled the Hardman bleachers must have wondered…which team comes to play today?
Senior Andy Draving matched Alexander pitch for pitch Monday for the first four innings…brilliant, confident, and in total control of his emotions and the circumstances of the game.
But baseball is a game of openings, and Piqua’s defense gave Troy its opening in the top of the fifth when shortstop Taylor Huebner made a throwing error on a ground ball by leadoff hitter Thomas Harvey. One hitter later, Draving plunked designated hitter Jay Swigard in the shoulder with a pitch to put runners on first and second with none out.
Call it a crack in Draving’s concentration or confidence, but the next hitter, the nine-hitter in the Trojans’ order, Devin Blakely, scalded a double to gap in left field to score Harvey and Swigard. Two hitters later, third baseman Nick Antonides caught the whole ballpark flat-footed with textbook execution of the suicide squeeze play with a bunt down the first base line to score Blakely with the third run of the inning.
Two hitters later, Ian Nadalny, drove in the fourth run of the inning with a single up the middle…4-0 Troy.
“The suicide play was a definite moment changer,” added Welker. “We thought about it with Jordan Guillozet at the plate, but Jordan’s hit the ball so well of late we didn’t want to take the bat out his hands. We knew Nick was a good bunter and thought he could get the ball down.”
The term…”momentum changer”! Given their meltdown of the night before the Trojans needed a “momentum changer”.
“It was a huge play,” said Alexander on the Press Pros Arbogast Buick GMC post-game show, but tonight was nothing like the seventh inning of last night’s game. We had our opportunities to win that game and we didn’t take advantage of them. Tonight we made the most of every opportunity we got.”
5 runs on 7 hits for Troy, no errors, and 8 men left on base.
For Piqua, 1 run on those 6 hits, with just that 1 error, and just 5 men left on base.
“Nick’s bunt was a big play in the game,” added Alexander. “But we’re a better hitting team than we showed tonight. We’re not done yet. Draving threw a great game for them and they played well. Be we have to go home tomorrow and do it again. We have to hit better than we did today.”
Indeed, that was the subject of the Trojans’ brief meeting in left field shortly after Devin Blakely caught Taylor Welbaum’s fly ball for the final out of the game. Nothing’s settled, just staged. Both teams enter Tuesday’s game with identical league records of 7-2.
But outside the Piqua dugout there was another meeting of the minds, different minds…Jared Askins and the Indians. It didn’t take a lot of imagination to guess the content of his calm and reassuring message. Baseball is a game of openings, yes. But baseball is also a game of “tomorrows”, as well. The game can be both cruel and kind in that regard…kind to Piqua in this instance.
Nothing is settled, just staged. A meeting of like minds on Tuesday.
A long-awaited title is at stake!