Centerville and Northeastern have both been playing a lot of close baseball games recently.
Nothing less would be expected when the two Tri-Eastern Conference and Wayne County rivals squared off Thursday.
Eight innings and a two-run error after the opening pitch, Northeastern escaped Centerville with a 4-2 victory.
The Knights (5-2, 2-1) won a third straight game since dropping a TEC decision against Union County last Thursday.
The Bulldogs (3-5, 0-1) opened TEC play with another heart-breaking loss in another two-run ballgame.
“That’s what we expected,” Northeastern coach Steve Bray said. “We expected a good ballgame. It seems like anytime you play a TEC team, no matter who it is, everybody always tries to bring their best game, and they (Centerville) played pretty well.”
Five pitchers saw action and all did enough to give their teams a chance to win.
But Northeastern led off the top of the eighth with back-to-back singles from Garrett Dill and Jordan Allen. Del Caudill bunted them over, and Centerville relief pitcher Sam Shaw got the exact thing he was looking for: a groundball right at him.
However, after Shaw checked the runners, his throw to first base sailed into foul territory, allowing Dill and Allen to score. Austin Kenworthy, who hit the groundball, ended up at third base.
“We had the situation we wanted, we had the infield in and what I told the boys was … when you play close ballgames and you don’t get big hits and score runs, then mistakes are magnified,” Centerville coach Tracey Crull said. “You make one mistake in a close ballgame or two mistakes in a close ballgame and it can be the difference in the game.”
It was a crazy way to win for the Knights, who managed four runs without an RBI.
Skyler Ashcraft walked and scored the first run on back-to-back wild pitches, giving Northeastern a 1-0 lead in the third inning.
Centerville scored its first run the exact same way: Andrew Walter walked, stole second and came around on back-to-back wild pitches to tie the game at 1 in the fourth inning.
Matt Stamper walked and scored on an RBI single by Jack Willis in the same inning, and the Bulldogs led 2-1.
Ashcraft was hit by a pitch in the fifth inning, advanced to second on a wild pitch, stole third, and scored on another wild pitch as the game remain tied at 2 until the seventh.
In between were solid pitching efforts by Eli Callahan and Shaw for Centerville and Caudill, Kessler Fisher and Craig Dingwerth for Northeastern.
Callahan started and struck out seven over six innings, before Shaw worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning and struck out two over two innings.
Caudill started for Northeastern, working four innings and giving up two runs on three hits, striking out seven, but walking five and hitting a batter.
Fisher struck out five of the eight batters he faced, yielding a hit and a walk.
Dingwerth picked up the victory after working two innings. He struck out two and yielded a double to Callahan in the seventh.
Both teams pitched out of early trouble, with Callahan striking out the heart of Northeastern’s order in the first and Caudill escaping bases-loaded jams in the second and third innings.
” … It’s been like that since Day 1,” Bray said. “Our pitching has been able to keep us in there, that’s one area where I feel we’re really deep at. Right now, our problem offensively and defensively is our mental toughness. We just got to get tougher, we got to build some mental toughness from a confidence standpoint. … But we break through that, I think you’ll see a different club.”
Fisher and Dill each had two hits for Northeastern, while Allen and Austin Kenworthy each had one. Callahan’s double was the only extra-base hit of the day, while Justyn North, John Cheatwood and Tyler Weaver each had a single.
Centerville dropped a 3-2 decision at Jay County on Saturday, before winning 4-2 in the second game of a doubleheader. They left the bases loaded in a 6-3 loss to Rushville on Tuesday and left 10 more runners on base Thursday.
“We’re getting absolutely amazing pitching — I’d put our pitching up against anybody the first eight ballgames,” Crull said. ” … I knew this game was going to be tight, it always is. Our conference is very balanced this year, and I didn’t expect anything less. … I thought Eli pitched an awesome game. He’s pitched well all spring so far. I thought Sam pitched well, came in and pitched well. We just need to get the bats hot.”