By VINCE PELUSO
JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP —
Two pitches into the bottom of the sixth inning, the Jefferson Falcons looked poised to break up a 2-2 with the Riverside Beavers.
Scott Davidson and Joey Piscsalko led off the inning with singles and after Kyle Ashburn was out on a bunt attempt, the Beavers intentionally walked Chris Whittenmyer to load the bases with one out.
A seemingly perfect opportunity for the Falcons went the other way two pitches later as Riverside pitcher Mike Gundling got Matt Barber to smack a ball back to him that turned into a 1-2-3 double play to end the threat.
The Beavers (8-4) made Jefferson pay for the missed chance, scoring two runs in the top of the seventh, aided by two past balls and a throwing error, as Riverside squeaked out a 4-2 non-conference win at Cotton Field.
“That was huge, you see that play maybe once a season where they actually load the bases up and they get that back to the mound,” Riverside coach Ed Humes said. “That’s what you hope for, obviously, but you rarely see it.
“Mike (Gundling) made a great play because that ball was hit hard, if he doesn’t spear that that’s one, maybe two runs. He did a great job fielding his position, that’s why he’s out there.”
“I think I’m really good at being at peace of my mind,” Gundling (3-0) said. “I’m good at showing up and just playing some baseball, and that’s exactly what I did. I threw the pitch and it came right to me, I just relaxed and threw it home.”
After Gundling’s escaped act, Branden Shaffer hit a ground ball in the hole on the left side of the infield that Piscsalko knocked down, but still allowed him to reach for an infield single. Jefferson (8-5) starting pitcher Troy Bloom fell behind 2-0 to Dan Walters and Falcons coach Scott Barber elected to intentionally walk Walters, looking for a similar result Humes got.
But a passed ball allowed Shafer and courtesy runner Ross Dawson to move to second and third then Bloom struck out Gundling, but the ball got past catcher Chris Wittenmyer, whose ensuing throw overshot first, allowing Gundling to reach and Dawson to score.
In the next at-bat, Graham Becker slapped an RBI single down the left-field line to give the Beavers the 4-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“We just... the ball bounced their way on that one,” Barber said of the missed chance in the sixth then defensive blunder in the seventh. “That’s all you can say. We tried to execute the right thing, we just didn’t execute it.
“It was a good ballgame, we just didn’t do the things we needed to to win. They did and we didn’t. That’s kind of been the story of our year.”
Humes credited Gundling, not only for his performance on the mound — he threw a complete game, allowing just two runs on 7 hits and fanning two — but for having the awareness to hustle down first after going down swinging to Bloom.
“We were saying, yeah he went down swinging, but he hustled down the line to put the pressure on them,” he said. “He could’ve just put his head down and jogged down the line, but by hustling he forced them into a decision and fortunately for us, it went our way.”
Gundling admitted he was disappointed with the strike out, but was glad he could help contribute in the win.
“I was bummed, I struck out, I was like ‘ahh!’” he said. “I’m one that likes to swing for the fences, I’m looking to get a home run every time. But I was glad I was able to get on base.”
Gundling’s counterpart on the mound, Bloom (1-1), nearly equaled him throughout — going 6 1/3, striking out 4 and allowing just two earned runs — but he wasn’t quite as fortunate in terms of run support and defense.
“No doubt about it, (he deserved a better result),” Barber said. “You pitch that well you deserve to win. To pitch that well, you deserve some more support to win a baseball game.”
Riverside struck first in the top of the third inning. A one-out double for Drew Tornow started things and he came home on a Gundling single to right center that was misplayed. Dillon Lilly drew a bases loaded walk with two outs to put the Beavers up 2-0.
But, Jefferson bounced right back.
A leadoff walk by Cole Erdel got things started and he was able to score on a throwing error on a double-play ball.
Piscsalko hit a flare down the left-field line that turned into a double and allowed Davidson to score, tying the game at 2.
Those would be the last runs Gundling would allow in the game.
“(The umpire) was calling those low, little bit outside pitches (for strikes),” Gundling said. “I was trying to hit those as much as I could and most of the time, I was hitting the spot and it was working out for me.”
Humes said he likes the way his team is playing right now.
“We’re playing pretty well, we’re finally getting to the point where we’re playing a lot of games now,” he said. “This Jefferson team is good. We always enjoy coming out here, it’s a beautiful facility and Scott does a great job with his program, so we knew they were pretty tough. This was just a good high school baseball game.
“It could’ve gone either way, we just happened to get the win.”
With the Division II tournament draw coming up Sunday, Barber believes playing a team like Riverside will benefit his Falcons as they battle for an All-American Conference crown and look toward the tournament.
“It’s always good to play Riverside, that’s what you need for tournament ball, win or lose, we’re a better team for playing this game,” he said. “I mean, you look at us at 8-5, you don’t look for a top seed. You don’t look at being in the top couple seeds, you look at just getting ready for the tournament now.
“We want to take care of the conference then get ready for the tournament. We still feel we can make some noise, we just gotta put it all together.”