Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has dual arts degrees from Ohio State University.

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Tournament heartbreak continued for the Tipp Red Devils, losing to Jonathan Alder in the Division II regional finals, and losing an an all-too-familiar fashion.

Xenia – After 30 years of coaching Tippecanoe’s Bruce Cahill concedes.  There’s still a few things he can’t explain about baseball.

Case in point:  His #3-ranked (AP) and 28-5 Red Devils lost 3-0 Saturday night in the Division II regional finals to Jonathan Alder…a good team, yes, but hardly intimidating or prohibitive (22-8, #17 AP).

Now baseball being the game that it is, you can lose to any team that has a hot pitcher on a given day and makes the most of its opportunities offensively.  And that’s exactly what happened against Jonathan Alder.  Alder righthander Pete Whitmer survived a rocky start over the first three innings to limit Tipp to just 3 hits on the night, and just one from the top four hitters in the order…and no hits over the last three innings of the game!

And, Alder “did” make the most of their own offensive opportunities, scoring three unearned runs, one in the third and two in the fourth.  Those runs were aided largely by a balk by Tipp pitcher Ben Hughes in the third, and a botched play at the plate in the fourth in which the lead runner was safe on a throw from shortstop Cameron Johnson…and a trail runner scored when the ball got past catcher B.J. Donathan.

No such luck for Tipp.

Talk about omens, if there is such a thing?  Donathan took a called third strike in the top of the first inning with the bases loaded on walks and a hit batsman.  A bad omen.

In the top of the second Steven Calhoun singled to lead off the inning and was promptly thrown out at second on an inexplicable attempt to steal…inexplicable because no one would mistake the 6’5″ Calhoun for Lou Brock.  Third baseman Zach Robbins then doubled, teammate Cole Quillen singled to right field, and on what’s usually routine scoring depth for a hit of that length Robbins was thrown out at the plate by two strides.  Another dark omen.

In the top of the fourth fleet-of-foot Austin Hadden reached first on a strikeout and passed ball to lead off the inning.  The next hitter, Donathan, promptly missed the sign for the hit and run and Hadden was thrown out at second…the trifecta in the category of inexplicable.  In three of the first four innings the Red Devils ran themselves out of potential scoring opportunities, which left Cahill virtually speechless to explain afterwards.

“Ah, the media,”  cracked Cahill, as he was descended upon after the trophy presentations and some time with his team.  Smiling on the outside, he had to be heartbroken on the inside after so many years and so many lost opportunities previous, opportunities gone wanting in a manner not dissimilar from the way it happened again on Saturday.  Like the story line from the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, who can blame Bruce Cahill if he’s grown tired of explaining.

“Well, we took another step this year,”  he opened.  “The bad thing is we lose five really good seniors.  Last year we have this happen and we have those five kids coming back.  They were instrumental in us getting back here.”

But still, the nuts and bolts of how it happened again.  The first four innings had to be excruciating to consider and replay in the coach’s mind.

“I never thought that things like missed signs would happen in a game of this magnitude,”  Cahill said, shaking his head.  “I can understand if you walk a few guys, or make mistakes out of nervousness.  But missed signs in a game like this?  The missed bunt in the first inning, and I don’t know if Steven thought he’d gotten the steal sign, or what.  It wasn’t like he got picked off.  He was two-thirds the way to second base.  But still, you gotta’ bunt the ball and we don’t get it down.

“Then we had the missed hit and run in the fourth.  We were trying to be aggressive because we thought we could.  Now you look back and second guess…maybe we should have been more conservative.  But when you only have three hits, and two of them come from the bottom of your order, and they all come in one inning?  We didn’t have a hit for the other five innings.”

Nothing inexplicable about that.  If you don’t hit you can’t score, and if you don’t score you don’t win.

Worse, you waste a sparking competitive effort from pitcher Ben Hughes, who battled through the lost opportunities of the early innings, who still gave his team a chance for a comeback while realizing that he was battling both Jonathan Alder, and, the “inexplicable.”

Credit Pete Whitmer, the Alder pitcher who righted himself enough to throw strikes and benefit from one sparkling play after another by his defense.

“He’s the kind of pitcher who beat us a couple of times this year,”  added Cahill.  “He probably threw 78 to 80 miles per hour, but threw his curveball for strikes.

Ben Hughes surrendered just six hits and limited Alder to three unearned runs in Saturday’s regional contest.

“But credit Ben, too.  All of their runs were unearned, I think.  You don’t expect to have a balk call cost you a run in that situation.  B.J. takes a third strike on a high pitch that we haven’t seen called a strike all year.  But he’d thrown that same pitch for a strike on 3-1 so you have to be ready to swing at it if you get it again, and he didn’t.  You can’t blame the umpire.  I don’t know,”  he paused. “Losing in the last game of the season just sucks.  This has been our best year ever, so…I don’t know.”

Like Russia’s Rick Gold the night before, and other coaches who amass 500 or more career wins and never get to Columbus, at some point they have to think about it…to wonder…will it ever happen for me?  Without saying as much, the agony in Cahill’s eyes and voice came pouring through as he spoke to the repetitious questions over what had happened for another year.  At one point you could detect the slightest crack in his voice.  You knew he was hurting…that he was hurting for his kids and those five seniors.  You hurt with guys like Bruce Cahill over the seeming cruelty of the sport he coaches.  But for a wild pitch, a balk, striking out with the bases loaded, a missed sign…all the circumstances that have tripped his teams in the past and again on Saturday…you have to wonder if he’ll ever get beyond the barrier of being a district or regional runner-up?

Classy as always, Cahill spoke to the toughest of questions posed to him Saturday after his latest disappointment.

“I didn’t think there was any doubt that we’d get through this year,”  he assured.  “After watching them beat Springfield Shawnee with their number #1 pitcher, I was actually thinking that this was set up for us if we could do what we’re supposed to do.  I never thought we’d come in here and get shut out by their #2 pitcher.  But, once he got through the first and we make all our mistakes in the second, he cruised.

“Will it ever happen for us, for me?”  Cahill offered.  “Maybe not.  Maybe it’s like Ernie Banks playing for all those years with the Cubs and never getting to a World Series.”

A gracious way of putting it, for a guy who felt like anything but classy in his heart at that moment.

“And I don’t feel like Mr. Cub, either,”  he said with a chuckle.  “But that’s what it is.  You battle every day, and every year you get a new bunch of kids to work with and try to get back to this point.  We’re getting there.  We took another step.  We just couldn’t close the deal.”

Bruce Cahill thanked those who came to watch and write about it, disappointing as it was.  Then he went back to his kids.  He put an arm around one, whispered something to another, and after one last moment of reflection led the way to a waiting school bus back to Tipp City.

You know he’ll be back.  But how he does it…how Bruce Cahill does it…after all these years and days like Saturday?

It’s beyond explanation.

Tipp’s Zach Robbins thinks about what might have been while Jonathan Alder players celebrated Saturday’s win and a trip to the state tournament.

“The Spot” is proud of its tradition of great food in Shelby County, and, proud to sponsor state tournament baseball coverage on Press Pros Magazine – Michael Jannides, President

 

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