Mended Britt pilots division clincher

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Dubois County Bombers pitcher Alex Britt celebrated after striking out Terre Haute’s Alex Reynolds to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning during Tuesday’s Western Division playoff game at League Stadium. Britt pitched eight scoreless innings before the Bombers hung on for a 3-2 victory to clinch the division crown. They’ll face West Virginia in the three-game championship series and will play Game 1 on the road Thursday. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

HUNTINGBURG — Alex Britt just wanted to accumulate innings. Really.

He wasn’t out to impress, nor was he looking to spend his summer with the Dubois County Bombers accenting his pitching repertoire with minor upgrades. The goals were primal for a guy who missed all of his last college season in the spring after thumb surgery for a torn ligament. The output has been pristine.

Britt extended his commanding summer — and the Bombers’ season — by tossing eight shutout innings Tuesday night at League Stadium, where Dubois County grazed the Terre Haute Rex 3-2 to capture the Western Division crown. Where Terre Haute’s Tommy Strunc fizzled as the Western Division All-Star starter surrendered six walks and didn’t survive past the third inning, the other half of the anticipated pitching face-off materialized as expected.

Britt struck out eight, sat down the first 11 hitters he faced and located a frisky curveball to baffle Terre Haute. The righty from Carson-Newman College threw 145 pitches, and if it were up to him, he would have flung even more. He elevated the Bombers (37-24) to the championship series against the West Virginia Miners (41-19) as Dubois County needs two wins in the best-of-three series to claim the league title.

It’s an awful lot for a pitcher who just wanted a little.

“This season was just to get innings, just to get my arm ready for the fall. That’s about it,” said Britt, who’s won his last five decisions of the summer. “And then I ended up pitching like this. I had no idea I was going to do this.”

“Anything with your hand, coming back from that can always be psychological; either ups or downs for him,” Bombers manager Ryan Anderson said of Britt. “Luckily, it’s been on the upside.”

Britt’s health and confidence blossomed to the point that prior to Tuesday’s game, he matter-of-factly mentioned to Bombers manager that he planned to pitch the entire nine innings.

He nearly got there.

Britt dodged a bases-loaded threat in the sixth with a two-out strikeout, but in the ninth he issued successive walks after securing the first out. Dubois County swapped Britt, the league’s leader with a 1.85 ERA, for Nick Green, the University of Utah reliever who’s among the league leaders in saves.

Green walked the first batter he faced on four pitches, and he sensed a dual wave of pressure — not only maintaining a lead that dwindled after an RBI single and sacrifice fly, but also salvaging Britt’s gem.

“It’s always in the back of your mind that it’s a playoff game, it means a little more,” said Green, who pocketed his eighth save. “I came in trying to pitch the same as I always do, but probably had a little bit more adrenaline. Britt pitched a hell of a game — I feel bad that I gave up his two runs — but luckily we got the job done.”

Terre Haute advanced the tying run to third, but when Austin Nyman squeezed Nick Johnson’s deep fly ball, the Bombers converged into a jubilant dogpile.

The animated response mirrored a game with a spike in atmosphere.

Better than 500 fans watched the Bombers’ first postseason appearance since 2007 as the team’s typical attendance nearly doubled. The Rex (38-23) played a part in that, with a small but shrill band of Terre Haute fans making the trip. But the Bombers curbed Terre Haute’s energy via defense behind Britt. With none out and one on in the sixth, shortstop Dalton Rouleau plucked a grounder in the hole, whirled and fired to second for a force-out. An inning later, right fielder Zach Long zipped a one-hopper across the field to foil Nate Bowles’ first-to-third dash.

Plus, Anderson praised his team for its maximum utility from a modest four hits. Knowing Strunc could struggle with control, Anderson preached patience. Austin Nyman accepted a bases-loaded walk for the Bombers’ first run, and they built the lead on sacrifice flies from Landon Curry and Jeff Zahn.

“We played baseball like it’s supposed to played,” Anderson said.

That’ll be the thrust again Thursday when the Bombers hike to Beckley, W.Va., for a first-round meeting with the Miners, who posted the Eastern Division’s top record in both halves of the season. Regardless of Thursday’s result, the Bombers are guaranteed to wrap up the season at home. They’ll host Game 2 on Saturday at 7:15 p.m., and if necessary, a deciding game would be Sunday evening at 6:15.

With the mileage Britt logged Tuesday, he expected it’d be Sunday before he could pitch again — and even then, it’d likely be a relief stint. That’s cool with him, though.
“We’re looking forward to at least two games, try to finish it out in at least two games,” Britt said. “(We want to) try to win this thing real fast.”

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