One run shy, Bombers launch their send-off

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Dubois County Bomber Eric McKibban grimaced after being called out at third base in Thursday’s Ohio Valley League first-round playoff game at League Stadium in Huntingburg. Two runs scored on the play when McKibban’s hit was mishandled by the right fielder, but the Bombers’ season ended with a 5-4 setback to the Owensboro Oilers. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

HUNTINGBURG — The postgame shapshot Thursday night at League Stadium became a going-away party. Dubois County Bombers players hugged, vowed to keep in touch and lingered on the field a little longer than usual.

Before too long, the assembly scattered. Time was up. That’s how it went for the Bombers in their latter summer days and in Thursday’s Ohio Valley League playoff face-off with Owensboro: They flashed their tendency for resiliency, but ran out of time to keep it humming.

Dubois County recouped from a pair of deficits Thursday and inched back twice but was unable to counter Owensboro’s tiebreaking strike in the ninth inning. A 5-4 setback short-circuited the season of a Bombers squad that began the season 4-0, dipped in between, but engineered a late-season gust by winning five of seven entering the playoffs.

A summer after reaching the Prospect League championship series, the Bombers’ postseason ride was snipped almost as quickly as it started. And then it was time for a round of goodbyes and taking inventory of the summer.

“I just learned how to play hard. Just grind, because I feel like we kind of took it for granted in the middle of the season where we should have been grinding it out real hard the way we have been the past couple of weeks,” said second-year Bomber Chris Tavares. “But what can you do? Just the way it goes.”

Dubois County (22-24) possessed comeback mettle twice. It didn’t hurt that they accepted some help, thanks to a pair of expensive misplays from Owensboro right fielder Tyler Tichenor.

In the third inning, Eric McKibban’s bounding grounder skipped off Tichenor’s glove. That brought Casey Ryan and Jacob Armstrong trucking home, and though McKibban was thrown out trying to take third base, the inning remained alive for Tavares, who blistered a shot off the old-time scoreboard in left field for his third home run this season. Owensboro nosed ahead 4-3, but when Tichenor dropped a routine fly ball in the fifth and Rick Linton poked an RBI single to plate McKibban, the Bombers were level again.

The run that Dubois County had no antidote for came in the ninth, when Cody Rogers slashed an inside-out double to left and scored on a bloop that plopped a few feet ahead of a diving Kyle Schwinghamer in right field. For the Bomber dugout, the hope was that it was simply the cue to rally again, as Dubois County continually scratched back despite being outhit 14-5 and having hitting leaders Bo Ausmus (.318) and Andre Davis (.308) scratched from the lineup because of injuries.

“There’s always hope as long as you’ve got a bat in your hand; you’ve always got a chance,” Bombers manager Wes Fink said. “Our guys were resilient tonight. They did a good job.”

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Bombers first baseman Chris Tavares stretched to reel in a throw as Owensboro’s Matthew Johnson reached safely on an infield hit. Tavares, playing first base for just the second time this summer, also clubbed a solo home run for his third longball of the season.

The night contained a few revelations, too. One was that Tavares can still play a little first base.

Thursday was Tavares’ turn in the rotation to catch, but with thinner personnel and in the interest of assembling a more potent hitting lineup, Tavares found himself playing first base for just the second time this summer. Fittingly, balls made their way Tavares’ way to challenge a guy who hadn’t played first base since a few years back in high school. In the eighth, Tavares nimbly handled a pair of high choppers and calmly delivered the putout throws to pitcher Johnathan Williams covering first base.

While Tavares experimented, if only for one game, others fine-tuned.

Fink pointed to the progress of guys like Armstrong, who’s “the first one here and the last one to leave,” Fink said, as well as Schwinghamer, the Forest Park High School product who redshirted this season. McKibban, who didn’t get as many at-bats as he would have liked at the University of Evansville this past season, was another guy who proved himself, Fink said.

“I could see the guys who redshirted and didn’t play a lot at school definitely improved as the year went on, and that’s what you want to see,” Fink said. “Of course, we would have liked to keep playing, but for these guys, it’s getting their at-bats and making sure they’re improving every day, and I thought they definitely did that. We ran through quite a few players with injuries here and there, but the guys, the core group we had, played every day and did a great job for us.”

The appreciation was reciprocated from the players, including Tavares. Before last summer, the Brooklyn native had never set foot in Indiana. By the end of a stint, he was enough of a fan to want to come back for another summer.

“I just liked the way they treat us here,” Tavares said. “They treat us well, the host families treat us all well, and the baseball competition was pretty good, and I felt like I could improve by coming back over here, getting ready for school.”

Everyone found a little room to grow, even Fink, the first-year manager who picked up on little things along the way. For example, Fink was told early in the season he could sport only 24 players on the roster. But he found out teams are allowed to include 30 guys and activate and deactivate players as injuries and other situations transpire. Next time, Fink said, he’ll be well served by carrying the maximum number.

The Bombers’ postscript also included a nod to some of their friends. Average attendance more than doubled this season, spiking from about 360 per game to around 900.
“You definitely learn something, and it was a great experience,” Fink said. “This was the best fan support that the Bombers have ever had. That definitely doesn’t go unnoticed.”

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