When Denver Cougars second baseman Aaron Bauman missed a sacrifice bunt attempt with no outs in the top of the ninth Wednesday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, it turned out to be a fortunate mistake.
Cougars manager Stefan McGovern took the bunt off after the strike, and Bauman worked a 2-1 count before delievering a single that scored Brian Keelan from second with the tying run. Andrew Riddick drove Bauman in with a double, and Denver's four-run ninth beat St. Joseph (Mo.) 8-5 in an elimination game at the NBC World Series.
"I got the bunt sign on the first one and I messed it up," Bauman said. "Coach gave me the sign to swing away and I just tried to wait back, see the ball deep and drive it to the right side."
Bauman is the Cougars' No. 2 hitter, so it wouldn't have been a surprise if the bunt sign stayed on after his failed attempt. Denver needed one run to tie, and a successful sacrifice would have put Brian Keelan at third with the Cougars' power bats coming up.
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Instead, Bauman got a hit and Denver's offense kept rolling. Riddick's double was followed two batters later by an RBI single from Mike Olsen. Logan Moore capped the scoring with a single that drove home Olsen.
"I was ready to go up there and bunt," Bauman said. "When (McGovern) took it off, I knew what to do. It gave me confidence that he knew I would get it done."
Some of Denver's pressure to rally was taken off in previous innings. Trailing 5-2 after St. Joseph plated a pair in the fifth, the Cougars chipped away with a run in the sixth and another in the seventh. Both innings were aided by doubles — Olsen's in the sixth and Bauman's in the seventh.
Another double — by Keelan to start the ninth — made an even bigger difference.
"It was extremely important," Bauman said. "It was a dog fight back back and forth the entire game. Every run counted."
Bipolar bullpens — Denver starter Kelyn Schellenberg lasted four innings and lived dangerously during his entire outing, allowing multiple hits in every inning.
Reliever Mike Schweiss initially did little to stabilize the situation, surrendering two runs in the fifth. Schweiss pitched a scoreless sixth, though, and St. Joseph didn't score again. Schweiss pitched 3 2/3 innings before giving way to Reese McGraw. Denver's closer retired Greg Noble with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth before working a scoreless ninth with two strikeouts.
St. Joseph's relievers didn't offer the same support to starter Trent Kohlstaedt, who allowed three runs in six innings.
Ben Stedronsky allowed a run in two innings before Mike Parker surrendered four earned runs while recording one out in the ninth. Andy Hebrand allowed two hits, one scoring a run, before escaping the ninth.
"Our relief pitching has been outstanding the entire tournament," Bauman said. "They've been shutting the door. Reese, our closer, coming in to shut the door in the ninth, it was huge."
Almost off the hook — St. Joseph infielder Brent Siefert ran through a stop sign at third base and was thrown out at home in a loss to Liberal on Sunday. He also was unable to handle a hard line drive that allowed the winning run to score in that game.
It St. Joseph had held on to beat Denver on Wednesday, Siefert's redemption effort would have been complete. He drove in two runs with a double in the third and two more with a home run to left in the fifth. The home run gave St. Joseph a 5-2 lead.