Indians Baseball earned a 3-0 win over Knights Baseball in Friday’s third round of the Bux-Mont Baseball Classic. Both teams entered the game with 2-0 records.
INDIANS BASEBALL 3, KNIGHTS BASEBALL 0
It was a perfect summer night for baseball, and in a summer that has been without the usual full slate of baseball games, it was fitting that two communities with proud traditions - both teams boasting 2-0 records - would do battle in the third round of the Bux-Mont Baseball Classic at Memorial Park.
Plenty of fans were there for a special night that included a pregame ceremony recognizing the Knights Baseball seniors and was followed by a giant flag hoisted between two fire trucks just beyond the outfield fence for the National Anthem.
“It’s a shame we lost, but it’s all about the team atmosphere - we love each other, and it’s fun to come back and play,” Knights Baseball third baseman Chris McLean said. “The fans were awesome.”
“Seeing throughout the whole outfield there were people lined up against the fence to cheer us on,” teammate Kolby Barrow said.
This whole week, according to Knights Baseball coach Kevin Manero, has been about a whole lot more than the outcome.
“I really believe on a night like tonight that the baseball stuff is entirely secondary,” the veteran coach said. “I can very confidently say – and I know it’s going to sound corny – that, as a coach, I am really lucky to be out here tonight with people like this.
“I think all the players on the team are really, really lucky with the way the world is today and everything else going on to be out here just doing something they love with people that will do anything for them.
“At some point - whether somebody is a boss at a job or somebody is working on a project, they’re going to need the people around them to work really hard, and that’s what these guys do. This atmosphere they’re in tonight with all these people from the community out here supporting them, them pushing for each other and doing everything they can for each other and for the name on the front of their jersey is a really, really awesome thing that not many people get to experience – and that a lot fewer people are getting to experience right now. That is what this whole week is about, and I think we accomplished every bit of that tonight.”
Indians Baseball received solid pitching but needed several highlight reel defensive plays to win Friday’s showdown. Three stood out, and all three loomed large.
Jake Horton came up with defensive gem in the bottom of the sixth inning with Indians Baseball clinging to a 3-0 lead. The Souderton rising senior – with Jeff Sobater on first after a leadoff bunt single –laid out and made a dazzling diving catch of a foul ball that appeared destined to fall harmlessly on the ground just beyond first base.
“I honestly just tried my best to get to the ball but I didn’t really think I was going to get there,” Horton said. “I’m not really used to the first baseman’s glove because I don’t usually play first. I didn’t know how much reach I could get with that glove, so I just dived, tried my best, and it went in. I was pretty surprised.”
“He flew,” teammate Matt Benner said.
Anything less would have put a pair on board with none out. The play loomed large when the next two Knight base runners reached base – Colby Seelig was hit by a pitch and Ryan Feiser drew a one-out walk.
Brian Reiner – in his first inning in relief – came up with a pair of huge strikeouts, allowing Indians Baseball to escape unscathed.
In the bottom of the seventh, Brian Neal was safe on an error to open the inning, and one out later, second baseman David Overpeck snagged a popup in shallow right center field that had basehit written all over it with another glittering defensive play for the inning’s second out.
Sobater followed and drew a walk, bringing RJ Agriss to the plate with the tying run. Agriss turned on the first pitch he saw and hit a foul ball to deep left but was retired for the game’s final out on a high popup to second.
“He wasn’t as effective as he was Wednesday, but he got the job done, especially in big spots,” Indians Baseball coach Mike Childs said of Reiner, who threw three scoreless innings in Wednesday’s win over Casey’s Place Hooligans. “The guys dug in tonight.”
Earlier, with Knights’ base runners on first and second and two outs in the second inning, third baseman Xander Giordanni barehanded a slow roller and fired to first for the final out.
“It felt like things weren’t going our way, and there was nothing we could do about it,” McLean said. “Little pokes that on a regular night might be dropping – we just couldn’t get them to drop. They were making good plays on the ball, and there’s nothing you can really do about that.”
Indians Baseball put two runs on the board in the second, benefitting from four walks. Benner drove in a run that turned out to be the game-winner when he lined a one-out single to left. A second run crossed the plate when Isaac Frye drew a bases-loaded walk.
In the fifth, Indians Baseball plated an unearned run when Ryan Canfield, who singled to lead off the inning, scored on an errant throw to third. That 3-0 lead held the rest of the way.
Few would have predicted a 3-0 score in a contest that pitted teams that had both put up double-digit runs in their first two games with Knights Baseball scoring 27 and Indians Baseball 25. Both teams had allowed only five runs in the two games combined.
Erik Ritchie – who earned the win - allowed just one hit in three scoreless innings to open the game. After walking the first two batters in the third, he fanned the next three he faced and finished with five strikeouts.
Horton fanned three in two scoreless innings, and Reiner also struck out three in two shutout innings to close out the game.
“They located, they hit their spots,” said Benner, who was behind the plate for Indians Baseball. “Got the dog out in them, hitting spots, pumping cheddar – being a good pitcher, that’s all they did the whole game.
“The pitchers were great all game, the defense was solid. We had two errors, which is good because they put a lot of balls in play.”
“They threw some real good pitchers at us,” Manero said. “With us not having a lot of live at-bats, we didn’t adjust real well to the good pitching.
“We kind of got in the box, and we weren’t ready to hit right away. You can’t fall behind against good pitching because then you’ve got to hit the good stuff. We did keep it close, and we had multiple opportunities in the last two innings to take advantage of that.
“I always tell the guys – if you can make most of the routine plays and you can avoid the free 90 feet, you’re probably going to have a chance to win every game you play late, and we did. We just weren’t able to connect on those barrels late in the game. We had chances and just couldn’t cash in.”
The trio of Ritchie, Horton and Reiner were projected to anchor Souderton’s pitching staff this spring.
“Ritchie and Horton were supposed to be our number one and number two this year with Reiner – who was going to be our starting centerfielder – right there also,” Childs said. “We have kids that didn’t even pitch yet that are very capable of pitching at the varsity level.”
While Knights Baseball collected just three hits, Indians’ Baseball managed only five off a trio of hurlers – Cole Egner, Kolby Barrow and Mike Lennon. Barrow allowed three hits, walked one and struck out six in three innings of middle relief – the Indians lone rune off Barrow was unearned. Lennon also struck out six in two scoreless innings to close it out. Egner absorbed the loss.
Indians Baseball was on the receiving end of 10 walks and stranded 13 base runners while Knights Baseball left 12 runners on base, and while Friday’s game won’t go down as a classic, the game evoked plenty of emotion on both sides in a battle of neighboring rivals.
“It’s awesome,” Benner said. “I play on a summer team with a lot of the North Penn guys so it’s fun to compete against them.
“Sitting in the house during quarantine, these are the games you miss. You can’t give up, you have to stay in the game the whole game. You can’t complain. Everyone got on base. It was a whole team effort.”
“We’ve always had a rivalry,” Horton said. “Even in football – even though they beat us - it’s been fun. It’s always the best feeling to beat North Penn.
“It’s really good (to be playing again), but it’s kind of bittersweet though because we thought we could go really far again this season.”
The two teams will square off again in Wednesday’s championship game at a site and time to be determined later.
“We’re going to have to come out firing because they shut us out tonight,” Barrow said. “We’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen on Wednesday.”
“Right from the beginning of this tournament, it was like, ‘Let’s go out and have fun,’” Childs said. “You have guys like Conlan Wall, Brian Reiner and the rest of the team saying, ‘You know what coach – thanks for doing this for us, but we’re here to win it all.’
“This is their mini defense of the state championship. They want to prove a point and go out winners, especially as seniors.”
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