In a game that promised drama and delivered eventually, Coldwater atoned for a surprising loss a year ago and beat Ft. Recovery in surprising fashion.
Ft. Recovery – It was one of the surprising outcomes of the 2015 season, when Ft. Recovery traveled to Coldwater and beat the heavily-favored Cavaliers on their own field, a win that eventually help catapault the Indians into the 2015 Division IV June state semi-finals at Huntington Park.
Wins like that last a long time in the memory of MAC folks, so when Coldwater came calling on Ft. Recovery Tuesday afternoon for the rematch it drew a record crowd for a high school baseball game in Ft. Recovery. It promised drama, and it didn’t disappoint.
Coldwater scored four runs in the first inning and cruised the next five innings before Recovery challenged by scoring in one in the fifth and twice in the sixth, but came up one the short end of a 6-3 score. How they did it was the stuff that MAC sports is legend.
Jackson Hobbs, who pitched Recovery to that win a year ago, and who won 11 games in taking the Indians to the state tournament, struggled in the first inning this time, surrendering four runs on five hits before retiring the side and settling into his usual pattern of efficiency.
Kyle McKibben led off the game with a double to left center field. Aaron Harlamert followed with a bunt single. Malave Bettinger singled to drive in McKibben, Dylan Thobe followed with another RBI single, Jack Hemmelgarn had a base bit and RBI before Hobbs could collect himself and retire the following two hitters for the final outs in the inning.
Jackson Hobbs, you understand, does not throw 90 miles per hour. At best, his fastball registers in the low 80s, but his ability to make the ball move, spot the breaking ball, and change speeds is his calling card…how he won those 11 games of a year ago.
In reality, he was simply the width of the ball off his game in the top of the first, and Coldwater took advantage.
“Kyle McKibben is a great hitter and one of the best players in this league,” said Hobbs afterwards. “I had him 0-2 and hung a breaking ball that he hit to left center and that just got things going. They’re a great baseball team and you can’t afford mistakes like that. By the time I made the corrections they had four runs on the board.”
And such was the story of Tuesday’s game…that, and the impressive performance of Coldwater starter pitcher, McKibben, who matched the intensity and competitiveness of Hobbs in striking out 12 in a complete-game performance of his own.
McKibben shut down Ft. Recovery until the fifth inning, surrendering 8 hits, and walking just one to gain the victory.
“Jackson Hobbs is a great pitcher, but Kyle McKibben battled pitch for pitch today and just out-pitched Hobbs,” said Coldwater coach Brian Harlamert.
“Hobbs was up in the zone at the start, and I think our senior experience and toughness helped us in making the most of those situations. When you face a good pitcher it’s a matter of competing, and I think both team had their opportunities today.”
Hobbs, for his part settled down quickly in the second inning, and for the next five innings gave up just four hits while striking out eight. For the game, 12 hits and 10 strikeouts, and he walked one.
“It really started with McKibben’s at bat in the first inning,” said Hobbs. “I got him 0-2 and hung a breaking pitch that he hit in the gap. He’s one of the best players in the league and that got things started for them. They ended up getting five hits in a row. It was hard to watch and I knew it would be hard for us to come back against them.”
And hard against one of the best pitchers in area Division III baseball, who for the afternoon struck out 12 Ft. Recovery batters before surrendering a single run in the fifth and a pair of runs in the sixth before settling back into his dominant pattern for the final inning. He routinely retired Nick Twaits on a strikeout, Cade Wendel on a grounder to short, and Hobbs for another ground out to short for the game’s final three outs.
It improved Coldwater’s record to 15-2, and 5-1 in the MAC.
It dropped Ft. Recovery’s mark to 10-5 for the season, and 1-2 in the MAC.
“The beginning of the game was the story of the game,” said Recovery coach Jerry Kaup. “We spotted a really good baseball team four runs and then we battled to the best that we could to try to come back. In a game like this you’re only going to get so many opportunities and we got a couple of opportunities, but we didn’t cash in on them. In the one inning, the sixth, that we were able to and got a little closer, but the story of the game was the first inning. Once Jack got into his groove it became a great high school baseball game.”
Coldwater scored its two insurance runs in the top of the sixth on a pair of base hits and a fielder’s choice where Recovery’s Hunter Boughman got caught in an indecisive moment at first base on a ground ball hit by Jack Hemmelgarn, with runners on first and second, that created a pinball effect, allowing McKibben and Harlamert to score.
“That was just typical high school baseball,” added Kaup. “Hunter had a moment of indecision on the ground ball and it cost us. It was just too late to get an out and give Coldwater credit, they continued to run the bases and scored a pair of runs. We’ll learn from today and move on.”
And it’s pretty obvious, with a talent like Hobbs on the mound, and veteran leadership from last year’s state semi-finalist team, that the best days of Ft. Recovery baseball in 2016 is still ahead of them, starting with another pivotal game at Versailles later in the week.
“I think that we can play better, and I hope that we haven’t played our BEST baseball yet,” said Kaup. “So I think we have a plateau that we can still reach and that’s what we’re banking on. Whether we get there or not, we’ll see. But after today, we think we can play better.”
The biggest crowd in recent memory showed up to watch it. WOSN was there to televise the game. And frankly, to Jerry Kaup’s contention that that best is yet to come for his Recovery baseball tea, it’s highly likely, given that major league teams play 35 games in spring training just to find their groove.
For Coldwater’s sake, veteran coach and icon Lou Brunswick was in the crowd as an impressed observer of a team that atoned for a memorable loss by scoring four runs in the first and staking their hopes on a great pitching performance. McKibben was great, weathered a late storm, and gave notice that this Coldwater team is to be reckoned with in the Division III tournament chase yet to come.
Brunswick, who won five of Coldwater’s state titles as coach, smiled contentedly at game’s end, the kind of smile that comes with a challenge met and conquered, even 23 years after winning the last of his five titles. He recognized the quality of the start, the comeback, and the finish of a great high school baseball game.
Jerry Kaup, in the present, will wait until Thursday to state his case…that Ft. Recovery is yet to play its best baseball!