Ben Wright lasted 25 outs without recording a strikeout and without really needing one — the Dodge City starting pitcher was effective enough to frequently induce weak contact by St. Joseph hitters.
When a strikeout became necessary with one out in the top of the ninth, St. Joseph continued to put the ball in play. Saulyer Saxon found the right spot, flipping a soft single to left over a drawn-in infield to tie the score.
The Mustangs added a second unearned run in the ninth, using two Dodge City errors and timely hitting to defeat the A’s 2-1 in the National Baseball Congress World Series quarterfinals at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Wright took a perfect game into the seventh but was ultimately undone by an effective approach by Saxon, who broke up Wright’s chance at history in the seventh, and by shaky defense behind him.
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"We had the game won if we make the plays defensively that we’re supposed to make," Dodge City manager Phil Stephenson said. "We get that run early and we could have blown it open and we didn’t make any adjustments to their pitcher, just like they didn’t make any adjustments to Ben."
The A’s scored a run on three hits in the first and it appeared Wright, a junior at Division II powerhouse Southern Indiana, was going to make the run hold up.
Wright was dominant during the first six innings, and after the first, Mustangs right-hander Cody Cunningham matched Wright and perhaps exceeded him. After the first inning, the A’s didn’t record a hit until the seventh, and though they had runners in scoring position in each of the final three innings, they were unable to push across an additional run.
Cunningham, the Mustangs’ first-round winning pitcher, struck out eight and allowed four hits in eight innings. Wright didn’t walk a batter or allow an earned run, but he was stuck with the loss after he exited with one out in the ninth. Cunningham got the win thanks to the decisive ninth-inning runs.
"I try to just kind of focus on my part of the game as much as I can control," Cunningham said. "If something is going on in the other half of the inning, I just try to flush it. I want to put up a zero every inning and I was able to have a good game. I got a lot of swings and misses on the off-speed."
Saxon’s ninth-inning clutch hit might not have happened if he hadn’t first stopped Wright’s perfect game. Saxon led off the seventh with a bunt single, and though it didn’t lead to a run, it raised the Mustangs’ collective confidence.
"With a no-hitter you’re just trying to break it open because you know that when you break it open some other things can happen," Saxon said. "It’s tough to get that first when it’s the seventh inning, so I just wanted to make something happen. I thought we were about to get (a run) that inning, but we didn’t. But we ended up getting it in the ninth."
A throwing error by Dodge City third baseman Taylor Drake put pinch hitter Sam Tolleson on second to start the ninth. No. 9 hitter Patrick Burkhart bunted him to third, and Saxon took an outside pitch to left field for the game-tying single.
A two-out Dodge City error extended the inning, allowing the Mustangs to break the tie on Kris Koerper’s single, scoring Saxon. Dodge City’s Cole Davis singled to start the bottom of the ninth, but Johnny Youngblood was called out at first after a sacrifice bunt and Devon Conley lined into a double play to shortstop to end the game.
"I didn’t think it was that tough of a call," Stephenson said. "I didn’t think it was that bang-bang. You have to live with what happens in a ballgame. It is what it is. We still had our opportunities, and we also have to make a better baserunning play there and we don’t make it, either."