If ever there was a moment for a heroic at-bat for Hutchinson Monarchs right fielder Scott Splett, this was it.
Bases loaded, one out, down by one run, bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Hutchinson had trailed the Liberal Bee Jays throughout the winner’s bracket game of the National Baseball Congress World Series, but Splett knew he had to approach his at-bat in a poised way.
“You want to be the hero, but you don’t want to do too much,” he said. “When you do that, bad things happen.”
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Splett didn’t have a huge hit in his at-bat, instead he watched four straight balls for a walk that scored Alex Lee to tie it at 3-3. Teammate Luke Acosta followed by watching four pitches, as well, and Terrell Brown walked in for the winning run.
Hutchinson won 4-3 to improve to 2-0.
“The pitcher, he just couldn’t throw strikes,” Splett said. “They kind of just gave us that win.
“… I was just waiting for (reliever John Branum) to come with the strike. He kept throwing it outside. I’m going to take until I get a strike. He kind of gave me that one.”
Hutchinson also had a come-from-behind win in its 6-3 win over Davy Jones Cardinals in the Monarchs’ opener on Saturday. Hutch trailed 3-2 in the seventh before scoring four in the top of the ninth against the Cardinals.
Hutchinson manager Deron McCue was comfortable with Splett and Acosta at the plate in just such a pressure situation.
“They’re veteran guys,” McCue said. “They’re the most mature guys I have on the team. They know how to play, they play hard. For them two, I don’t think anything bothers them. If it had been a freshman or somebody that hadn’t been in that situation, they do get a little antsy (in tight situations).”
With a runner on first in the bottom of the ninth, Brown, Hutchinson’s second baseman, hit a sharp liner up the left-field line that landed fair before rolling into foul territory by the Lawrence-Dumont Stadium batting cage.
“It was a big-time hit for us,” Brown said.
Liberal then loaded the bases with an intentional walk to set up a force out, which set up Splett’s at-bat.
Liberal’s struggles on the mound were especially frustrating for the Bee Jays because starter Cody Crabaugh threw seven strong innings. He allowed one hit and just three baserunners through the first five innings. Crabaugh gave up two runs in the sixth on Jordan Pearson’s blooper that took a surprisingly hard bounce over the head of Liberal left fielder Derek Miller.
“He was attacking our hitters,” said Splett, who was thrown out at home in the eighth by right fielder Dalton Bernardi. “He got ahead and he made us swing at his pitches. Then in the end, (the Bee Jays pitchers) were falling behind and we got ahead in the count and it’s easier to hit.”
Crabaugh came out after the seventh, and Liberal used four pitchers in the final two innings.
“We let them hang around,” Liberal manager Brandon Kitch said. “We had 13 hits. We’ve got to get it done on the mound. Our bullpen didn’t get it done for us today. They have all summer, but we just didn’t get it done today…. We just have to make the pitches when we need to.”
Liberal had runners on second and third in the second inning and failed to score. In the fifth, Dayne Parker had an RBI single and Tyler Baker followed with an RBI on a ground-rule double. But Bernardi hit a sharp liner right at Brown, who dove to the right, caught the ball and then threw to second to get Baker for the inning-ending double play.
“We didn’t score when we needed to against them,” Kitch said. “We let that one get away from us.”