Raider deficiencies a simple matter of inches

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Dave Schank isn’t one to overanalyze things, but the Southridge baseball coach was certain that a few inches could’ve changed the trajectory completely. Something weird might have helped, too.

Because Thursday, the Raiders just seemed an inch out of luck repeatedly, and Gibson Southern’s pulse on the game never produced any abnormal spike.

So in the end, the ripped grounder did ricochet off Payton Mattingly’s glove in the first inning; Brett Nordhoff’s chuck to third base did sail just over Mattingly’s glove in the third; William Gutgsell’s bunt was fielded cleanly in the fifth; and Chad Meyer’s belted shot to left was nothing but a routine fly in the sixth.

Nordhoff

It really doesn’t matter what, “but something kind of weird has to happen. An error, somebody plugs a gap,” Schank said. The problem was, that just didn’t happen during the Raiders’ 2-1 stumble at League Stadium.

“You either need to make your breaks happen or hope that the breaks come,” Schank said. “You don’t hope that (a ball) gets booted or that they throw it away. You don’t hope that the pitcher is going to get wild. You’ve got to create those yourself. I think we’re right there. Something happens here or there and it’s a 3-2 game.”

Schank knew, though, it probably wouldn’t be. All week he’d been predicting a 2-1 final count to his team. And between the one earned run Raider starter Jacob Brewer surrendered over his six innings, Neil Messmer’s perfect inning in relief and the 10-strikeout complete game Titan senior Dillon Whitten issued in return, the prediction seldom seemed unsound.

But, ugh, a few inches.

After Brewer (nine strikeouts) fanned the game’s first two batters, Whitten laced a two-strike pitch down the third-base line. Mattingly lunged for a backhand stab and the ball deflected into foul ground down the left-field line, turning a single into a double for Gibson Southern’s 275-pound hoss. Two pitches later, Whitten’s battery mate and fellow Olney Central College recruit Caleb Wagner smacked a single into center.

1-0.

Again in the third, after the Titans advanced the leadoff batter to second on a sacrifice bunt, Mattingly came within an inch of snaring Nordhoff’s sling on a stolen base attempt, allowing the baserunner to trot home.

2-0.

The overthrow was Nordhoff’s second error of the game; the first came via an overthrow to second base in the first inning when Wagner stole, which proved inconsequential when Brewer (3-1) got a third batter in the inning to chase a third-strike breaking ball.

The gaffes are acceptable to say the least, Schank assured. For a guy who “saves us so many runs, if once in a while he costs us a run, I’m sure as hell not going to get on his back,” the Raider coach said.

More importantly, Nordhoff shook it off. And responded.

After Connor Craig reached second base leading off in the first inning, the Raiders (14-3, 5-1 Pocket Athletic Conference) failed to push anyone else past first base through the first four frames. Nordhoff changed that in the fifth with a leadoff double that tailed to right and sneaked under the diving right-fielders’ glove.

“Everybody always says baseball is a game where you have to have a short memory. So you mess up, no big deal,” said Nordhoff, whose courtesy runner, Andrew Recker, scored on Craig’s single two batters later. “You’ve just got to come back later in the game, do something good, try and pay off your debt.”

In the sixth, Nordhoff made sure the Titans’ lead didn’t swell. When Gibson Southern (15-4, 7-1) tried a squeeze with one out and a runner on third, Nordhoff leapt for the bouncing bunt toward third, tagged the runner bound for home and fired to Meyer at first, who lunged to complete the double play.

The effort seemed to be infectious. Mattingly pasted a single up the middle off the bottom of the inning, the last of Southridge’s six hits. Two batters later, Meyer lifted his towering fly to left.

“If he doesn’t get under it so much, we score and we’ve got a guy on second,” Schank considered. “You just never know.”

Instead, the inning proved harmless, and so did Southridge in the seventh. Whitten sacked any notion of a comeback with three straight strikeout to snap Southridge’s seven-game win streak and bring the Titans even in the loss column with the Raiders atop the Pocket Athletic Conference. With Gibson Southern having already completed its PAC schedule, the Raiders could still earn a share of the conference title if they prevail in their two remaining conference games, against Heritage Hills and Tell City. If Southridge pulls it off, it would make it back-to-back titles and the third in program history.

The Raiders will continue to face good pitching the next couple games, too, Schank emphasized, with Class 3A No. 4 Jasper (13-5) tonight and Heritage Hills (12-8, 3-3) on Tuesday.

“So if you’ve got some strategy that will help us go out and get three runs against a kid like (Whitten), please tell me,” Schank kidded, cupping a hand by his ear.

In the end, Nordhoff assured, simply being in that tight battle for inches will pay off.

“You’d rather lose a close game than win a big one because it shows you what you need to work on, shows you just what your problems are,” he said. “And we’ll come back and be better tomorrow, we’ll be better next week, we’ll be better by sectional.”

Contact Joe Jasinski




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