In one of Saturday’s best area high school baseball games Versailles found a way, with a dramatic finish, to squeeze past Fort Loramie in the opener of the Zac Richard Classic.
Versailles – The first game at the Zac Richard Classic on Saturday started with a strike. Gene Richard hit his spot with the ceremonial first pitch that catcher (and grandson) Jon Richard squeezed.
The game ended with another gem to the plate. This one came from Versailles shortstop Austin Knapke, whose game-ending relay throw to catcher Kyle Subler cut down Fort Loramie’s upset bid at the plate to save Versailles’ 2-1 victory.
As Fort Loramie coach Bill Sturwold said after the game, a break here or a fortunate bounce there and the non-conference game could have been a different outcome for his Redskins. It was one final bounce – or more appropriately a bobble – that ultimately went the Tigers’ way.
Versailles, taking that 2-1 lead into the top of the seventh, got a quick ground out behind reliever Noah Richard. Fort Loramie received one of those breaks Sturwold was looking for when Dillon Albers reached first after Knapke’s throw pulled the first baseman off the bag. Richard then got a fly out to center for the second out and prevented Albers from tagging up.
The drama started when Fort Loramie’s Eli Rosengarten ripped a single to center. Sturwold said he would have held Albers at third on a clean relay, but waved Albers around third after Knapke bobbled and dropped the ball. Knapke’s throw home beat Albers by a couple of steps.
“That’s a Loramie-Versailles type of game,” Sturwold said. “Just a good high school baseball game.”
A slumping Versailles’ offense was slowed down more by soft-tossing Fort Loramie freshman Joel Kaiser. Asked what Kaiser’s fastball was clocked at and Sturwold quipped: “It’s not (fast) enough to get a ticket.”
Still, Kaiser did what was asked and limited the Tigers on the scoreboard. Versailles (9-2) scattered eight hits off Kaiser and left six runners on base.
“He’s deceptive. He throws below hitting speed,” Sturwold said. “Versailles plays a pretty strong schedule so that might’ve been the slowest thrower they’ve seen all year. … He’s got a good moxie about him and he’s just going to throw strikes. He gave us a chance to win. That’s all you can ask.”
Versailles led 1-0 in the first inning on junior Kurtis Rutschilling’s sacrifice fly that scored Subler. Rutschilling made it 2-0 in the third on a 315-foot home run to left, his second this season.
Rutschilling, who who missed the start of the season rehabbing an ACL injury suffered during football, wasn’t expected to return until later this month. Last season’s run to the Division III state semifinals provided additional motivation for him to return sooner, even if it meant extra time on that dreaded anti-gravity treadmill.
“That wasn’t very fun. That was hard,” Rutschilling said.
“(Doctors) said it depends how hard I worked. I took that into consideration when I worked out in the weight room and the stuff I did at home. I did a lot of rehab, especially at home. I got on the treadmill a lot and did agility. I kept pushing every day.”
Versailles starter Elliot Bruns allowed two hits in four innings. The Redskins (6-7) had their chances against him with three walks and a hit batter.
The Tigers’ defense came through in the first inning when Subler picked off a runner at third base to end the inning.
In the fourth, Fort Loramie had a runner on first with no outs. With the hit-and-run on, the batter hit a sharp grounder to second basman Isaac Ruhenkamp. Ruhenkamp tagged the runner and threw to first to complete the double play.
“(Bruns) mixes it up and he’s a guy that works the zone,” Versailles coach Ryan Schlater. “Sometimes we get on him for working the zone too much and falling behind some hitters. He throws the ball well and someone we really count on for Saturday’s. Saturday’s I kind of treat as grooming guys to get to being one of our top pitchers. I have big expectations for Bruns the next two years.”
Richard relieved Bruns, who was on a pitch count, to start the fifth. The Redskins got singles from Ben Barhorst and Albers and pulled within 2-1 on Dan Berning’s sacrifice fly. The Redskins had two on in the sixth with one out – both on walks – before Richard got out of the jam with a strikeout and ground out.
“They’re playing hard. That’s all I can ask,” said Sturwold, whose Redskins stranded seven runners (four in scoring position). “We’re good enough to play with anyone. But we gotta start winning these one-run games.”
Cole Niekamp and Richard each had two hits for Versailles, which has also struggled of late to score runs. The one-run victory was a good way to bounce back from Thursday’s 4-3 loss in 10 innings to Midwest Athletic Conference foe Parkway.
“If we hit the ball we’re fine,” Schlater said. “We have the pitching to keep the runs down. I think we can hang with just about anybody. It’s just scoring runs right now. It’s been a struggle.”