For the first five innings on Thursday, March 24, the Aberdeen Bobcats struggled to figure out the puzzle that was Elma starting pitcher Gibson Cain and the Eagles defense.
The baseball game then turned not on a dime, but on a bunt.
A bunt base hit off the bat of Kale Goings loaded the bases and the Bobcats followed up by cashing in six runs to defeat Elma 6-1 at Ken Waite Field in Aberdeen.
Playing in the second game of the season for both teams, the Bobcats (2-0 overall) and Elma (0-2) were locked in a pitcher’s dual as Cain and his Aberdeen counterpart, Hunter Eisele, kept run scoring at a minimum.
As the game progressed into a scoreless tie in the top of the third inning, Elma broke through with the game’s first run when infielder JT Tiffany drove in Blake Corr with a two-out double to the left-field corner.
With runners at second and third, Eisele got out of a jam by striking out Clay McBride, it wouldn’t be the last time Eisele would work out of a jam.
In the top of the fourth, Cain and Andrew Sanders opened the inning with back-to-back walks and advanced to second and third on a passed ball, as Elma threatened to extend its lead.
But Eisele locked in, striking out the next three Eagles to keep the game at 1-0.
Aberdeen got a runner aboard in the bottom half of the inning when Bobcats first baseman Trevon Nichols led off with single — Aberdeen’s second hit of the game off Cain to that point.
The Eagles quelled the threat, however, by turning a 4-6-3 double play the next at-bat — the second double play the Eagles would turn in the game, having also done so in the first inning.
Aberdeen finally broke through in the fifth inning. Catcher Charlie Ancich was grazed by a pitch to lead off the inning, followed by a single from Baylor Ainsworth.
Kale Goings then stepped to the plate and looked to move the runners over with a sacrifice bunt, but the speedy outfielder beat the throw to first to load the bases, energizing the Aberdeen crowd and his teammates in the process.
Disaster then struck for Elma, as its solid defense that had not shown any weaknesses through the first four innings, cracked. The Eagles committed two errors on a hard-hit ground ball by pinch-hitter Luca Pisani, allowing two runs to score as Aberdeen took the lead.
That opened the floodgates as Aberdeen would score four more runs in the inning.
Eisele drove in a run with a single followed by Nichols’ second single of the game, driving in a pair of runs on a sharp liner to left field.
Later in the inning, Ancich singled off Elma reliever Grant Vessey to drive in Nichols, who motored around from second to give the Bobcats a 6-1 advantage.
Aberdeen head coach Dave Hinchen said Goings’ bunt — which might have seemed like a routine sacrifice — turned the game around for his team.
“I love to bunt and put pressure on the other team,” he said. “Kale has got a lot of speed and I feel like that changed the whole complexion of the game. … They made a pretty crucial error after that and I think that stems from a big play.”
Malaki Balesteri relieved Eisele and pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh innings — striking out five of the six batters he faced — to secure the 6-1 victory.
Eisele earned the win, allowing one unearned run on three hits with 10 strikeouts over his five innings pitched.
“He’s a dog,” Hinchen said of his sophomore right-hander’s mentality on the mound. “I feel confident in giving him the ball. … He pitched really well for five innings, and then Malaki was lights out.”
Cain was the hard-luck losing pitcher for Elma, allowing six runs (four earned) on six hits with four strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings pitched.
“It was a win being out here,” said Elma head coach Travis Vessey, whose team hadn’t played in eight days due to rain outs. “We’ve had a lot of days in the gym. … We knew right away we wanted to come down and play Aberdeen in nonleague. … They have some good stuff over there and we wanted to face that. We’re excited about what we did here today. Obviously, the errors will kill you.”
Elma 001 000 0 — 1 3 2
Aberdeen 000 060 x — 6 7 2
Elma — Tiffany (2-3, 2B, RBI); Cain (1-2). LP — Cain (4.1 IP, 6R, 4ER, 6H, 4K, 3BB).
Aberdeen — Nichols (2-2, R, 2 RBI); Eisele (1-4, R, RBI); Ancich (1-2, R, RBI); Goings (1-3, R); Miller (1-2). WP — Eisele (5 IP, R, 0ER, 3H, 10K, 3BB).