As the innings dragged on Saturday afternoon at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, it almost became more important for Liberal and the San Diego Force to avoid losing rather than to win.
One team was getting sent to the losers bracket in a double-elimination tournament with depleted pitching. One would be in a similar pitching situation, except with fewer wins needed to advance to the National Baseball Congress World Series’ championship week.
San Diego got the relief — perhaps a more prevalent emotion than joy — of winning, as K.J. Miramontes’ single scored the winning run in a 3-2, 13-inning victory for the Force in the tournament’s opening round.
With both teams shut down for most of the game save for two one-run innings, it seemed the one that could string together three or four quality at-bats would push across the decisive run.
San Diego, with two singles up the middle and two walks — one intentional — was that team.
“We told ourselves we need to refocus,” Miramontes said. “Look for a good pitch to hit, and it’s about time it came.”
The Force squeezed every pitch it could out of starter Adrain DeMar, who completed eight innings, and reliever Brock Heerdt, who pitched 4 2/3 before leaving in the top of the 13th.
San Diego used two pitchers to record the last out of that inning, and probably would have had to burn more if the game went into the 14th.
Liberal’s pitching was wearing down, too, and reliever Chad Nack seemed to be tiring as he began his third inning in the 13th.
Nack walked Timothy Leary on six pitches before allowing a single to Nick Schulz and intentionally walking Tyler Nordgren, a move that doesn’t require pitches in NBC play.
Miramontes fouled off two Nack fastballs before his line drive through a drawn-in infield scored pinch-runner Alex Scheiwe.
“My coach (Patrick Allen) always says that with the infield in, your average goes up 100 points,” Miramontes said. “… After that many fastballs, I was geared up for it. I was using my hands, so even if he threw me a curve I could have slapped it away.”
Liberal scored in the first and tied it in the sixth in inning in which Luis Diaz reached base and stole second. Half of that equation took place in the 11th, which Diaz started with a bunt single.
Diaz, though, was caught stealing and Liberal squandered its final scoring opportunity, stranding two runners who walked in the top of the 13th.
Neither team committed an error and the game was so well-pitched that both failed to accumulate double-digit hits.
“That was a heck of a ballgame,” Liberal coach Brandon Kitch said. “We did a great job, they did a great job — on the mound, at the plate. It was a great ballgame and it was fun to be a part of.”