When the Valley Center Diamond Dawgs are at their best, it usually begins with getting the leadoff hitter on base and forcing the issue on the base paths.
There was none of that on Tuesday night in a 5-4 loss to the San Diego Waves in a winners bracket game in the National Baseball Congress World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Valley Center put its leadoff hitter on only once, and even that ended abruptly as Brian Keelan was thrown out stealing in the seventh inning.
"When we get guys on early, then we can bunt and run and make things happen," Valley Center manager Pat Hon said. "We just couldn't get that lead-off guy on ever it seemed like."
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The Dawgs got the tying run on base in the ninth, as Zach Stucky reached on a single with one out. But Valley Center's offense couldn't generate anything as Chance Ross struck out to end the game.
"I thought if we got a guy on, we would have a good chance to win," Hon said. "Zach gave us a chance, but we just couldn't get anything going."
The loss can really be pinned on the fifth inning.
Before that, starter Brian Kowal didn't allow a hit. But San Diego touched Kowal up for four hits in the inning. Kowal was removed in favor of reliever Alex Marney, but he couldn't stop the San Diego rally.
Two more San Diego hits and a seemingly harmless rally had ballooned to five runs and erased a 4-0 Valley Center lead.
"Our guys never gave up," San Diego manager Junior Taele said. "They kept battling like they have all summer. We just kept chipping away until we got the lead."
Then San Diego turned to reliever Matt Peterson, who shut out Valley Center for the final four innings. Outside of Tyler Coughenour, Valley Center's offense struggled.
"Our pitching and our defense has been what has gotten us to this point," Taele said. "We've been sporadic with the bats, but for some reason once we've gotten here in Wichita we've got all three phases going now."
Valley Center took a 4-0 lead in the early innings thanks mostly to offense from Coughenour and Wilson, who drove in two runs.
Wilson doubled home Coughenour to score the first run in the fourth and then scored himself on a single from Daniel Jordan.
Coughenour scored again the next inning on a triple by Wilson, who then scored on a single from Aaron Machbitz.
"I thought we had it going there early," Wilson said. "But I guess we didn't have there late."
Hon turns to the crucial fifth inning and the way the Dawgs let one inning cost them.
"If we could have just minimized the damage there, we win the ball game no question," Hon said. "We just couldn't keep it to below that four mark."
Valley Center will be in the final six teams on Thursday.
"I told our guys we're pretty much in no different situation than we would have been on Thursday," Hon said. "It's pretty much a six-team bracket now. We just can't let this affect us. We still feel like we can play with anybody here."