With little offensive support outside of the first inning run he scored himself, Tipp’s Aaron Hughes made it stand for a nail-biting sectional final win Thursday over Springfield Shawnee.
New Carlisle – Tipp’s Aaron Hughes admitted afterwards Thursday, “When the other team has a good pitcher out there you have to make every run and very opportunity count. Plus, you have to limit the other team to as few runs as possible to try to hold onto the game.”
And that’s just what the slender junior did in pitching Tipp City to its 21st win of the season, a sectional tourney final win, 1-0 over CBC rival Springfield Shawnee.
In a game that took just an hour and twenty nine minutes to play, Hughes absolutely made the most of the Red Devil’s one and only scoring opportunity in the bottom of the first inning.
Hughes, himself, batting leadoff, got on base on an error by Shawnee third baseman Andy Hubbard.
The next hitter, Jacob Ambos laid down a bunt that no one could field and legged it out for a hit.
Andrew Kraske, who would probably admit to liking ice hockey as much, or more, than baseball, then lifted a clean single over the head of the shortstop for another hit, scoring Hughes from second base. 1-0 Tipp, and that was the sum total of the offense by both teams for the day.
As for limiting the other team in its chances, Hughes promptly went about shutting out the Braves (20-9) over the next seven innings on just four hits, allowing one walk and a hit batsman. The Red Devils committed three errors, but Hughes struck out five to finish +2 in the errors to strikeouts category.
In short, he pitched a masterpiece, his sixth shutout of the year. In musical terms…one could call it “Opus 6”.
He stranded seven Shawnee base runners, but only once with more than one on base at the end of the inning…the third.
And as the pressure began to mount between him and Shawnee pitching ace Seth Gray, he was exemplary in keeping his calm, limiting his pitch count, and executing the game plan of pitching coach Jim Johnson.
Gray, a Wright State recruit for next season, entered the game hitting .450 for the season and hit first in the Braves’ batting order, ostensibly to get as many at bats as possible. He hit four times…and went o for 4 against Hughes, who masterfully changed speeds and moved the ball inside and out on the frustrated Gray.
“That was the plan,” said Hughes. “He (Johnson) knows I’m not a power pitcher. I’m a guy that has to change speeds and keep hitters off balance. I just try to hit my spots and get as many ground balls and popups as possible. I knew Gray was a good hitter, we’ve seen him, and he’s going to play Division I baseball next year. I tried to keep the ball down, move it in and out, and I didn’t want him to get into any kind of a groove. He’s a really good hitter.”
The only time Gray got on base, ironically, was on an error by Hughes on dropped throw from first baseman Brad Calhoun covering first base in the fifth inning. Three hitters later, he left him standing there.
It marked the Red Devils’ 21st win of the season, another sectional title in the impressive tenure of Bruce Cahill at Tipp City, and a familiar scenario over the years for Tipp teams that have relied on strong pitching and defense to win. This team does not score a lot of runs!
“The nice thing is that Aaron comes out every day with the goal of throwing a shutout,” said Cahill. “He shutout Chaminade 1-0 this year. He shut out Ben Logan last year 1-0 in the same sectional final, so he’s accustomed to that kind of mindset. I just told the guys to get another run for some insurance because we had no margin for error. I know what it feels like to be on the other end of games like this.
“We haven’t hit a lot again this year,” he added. “We had a goal at the beginning of the season to have 60 extra base hits for the year and think we might have half that many now in 30 games. Cole Barhorst is our catcher and hits about .325. Andrew Kraske is a hockey player and came out this year and hit .385, but beyond those two and a couple of others we just don’t have guys that go up there and drill the ball. For the most part we’re a team that bunts well and scratches out what runs we need to win. The good thing is we have four guys who can throw (pitch) and I feel pretty good about that.”
It’s called ‘old-time’ baseball by generationalists, and countless titles, pennants, and World Series have been won in that manner – where there is no margin for error. The trick is, pitch well, throw tough strikes, and compete!
“That’s the thing about Aaron Hughes,” Cahill continued. “He WILL compete. He was really good against Seth Gray today, throwing a lot of changeups, curveballs late, and he got him to hit the first pitch for a ground out in the seventh inning. Aaron doesn’t throw as hard as Seth, but he’ll compete with anybody.”
And as often the case, Hughes took the mound for the top of the seventh, guarding that 1-0 lead with the pressure of facing the top two hitters in the Shawnee order.
He retired the #9 hitter on one pitch, a popup.
He then retired Gray in his final at bat on a quick ground ball to second base.
And with the Shawnee partisans roaring against him from the sidelines he coolly slipped a called third strike past Wes Doyle, the #2 hitter in the order, for the final out.
It took about as long as the average symphony, a thing of pitching beauty that moves Cahill and the Red Devils on to the district round of the tourney against an opponent yet to be determined by the end of Thursday’s game. Another game, another tourney, another year of playing with no margin for error, with four pitchers that can throw.
And the “opus” man…Aaron Hughes.