MONTGOMERY - Mistakes result in extra practice sprints. They also create a fast and aggressive baseball team that feasts on opponents' mistakes.
Montgomery catcher Mike Alexander proved that in the fourth inning Tuesday, scoring from second on a strike-three passed ball. Alexander never broke stride, forced a throw home that sailed high and might have been safe even had the throw been perfect.
The Raiders capitalized on mistakes throughout the game, made few themselves and kept surging toward the postseason. Marcus Bartlett threw a three-hitter, Alexander had two hits and Zach Shadle reached base three times as Montgomery defeated Bucktail, 11-1 in five innings in a showdown between playoff-bound District 4 Class A teams.
"At our practices if we throw the ball away or make a bad play we're doing 90 feet sprints because that's what they gave away," Persing said. "They know now when a mistake is made we can get that 90 feet because they have seen what they have to do."
Montgomery (12-6) scored nine fourth-inning runs to take an 11-1 lead as Bartlett won his fifth straight and allowed five or fewer hits for a fourth consecutive start. It was a big win for the Raiders, who are chasing Bucktail (9-4) for the No. 3 seed in the District 4 playoffs. Montgomery pulled into a tie with Muncy for the No. 4 seed and can finish no worse than fourth, while receiving first-round home game if it wins its last two games.
That Montgomery is in this position is especially impressive considering it started the year 4-5. Just when it looked like a decade-long playoff streak was in jeopardy, the Raiders jelled and began playing their best baseball.
"We had a goal at the beginning of the season and we started far away from that goal. We just came out and started practicing harder and hopefully we'll just keep going," said Alexander, who went 2 for 3 with an RBI and a run. "Coach Persing always believed in us. He really got into as at one practice and ever since then we have just kept rolling with the intensity."
Montgomery has especially looked strong in the last week, beating potential playoff opponents Muncy and Bucktail by a 16-2 margin. Just like two years ago when the Raiders reached the state championship, everyone is carrying the weight, too. That was especially obvious in the nine-run fourth inning when every hitter scored a run and five straight delivered hits.
Thomas Goetz ignited the barrage with a two-run single and Bartlett followed with a two-run double. Jake Miller and Shadle added RBI singles and Alexander capped the five-hit flurry with a single before displaying excellent speed for a catcher and scoring from second on the passed ball.
"One through nine and the guys on bench too, we faith in everybody," Alexander said. "I feel like it (the balance) is even better (than two years ago). I think 1-9 we're even stronger. Anybody can come through at any time."
Alexander hit a first-inning RBI single that made it 2-0. Tony Saltsman hit a third-inning RBI single to pull Bucktail within 2-1, but Bartlett never let another runner move past first. The senior right-hander built on his outstanding season, struck out six, continued growing stronger as the game progressed and threw an efficient 67 pitches, the second straight start he likely would have finished below 100 pitches had the game went seven innings.
Bartlett is one of three pitchers that have delivered big performances throughout the season. Jake Miller and Dylan Gordon also have been outstanding and Gordon threw a 1-hit shutout last Saturday while striking out 15. Raider pitchers have allowed three runs or fewer in seven of Montgomery's last eight games, giving their team a chance to win every time they play.
"That's a blessing for us right now. They are doing really well and Dylan is pitching as well as anyone in the district right now," Persing said. "Almost everyone on our team has had bullpens all through winter. Joel (Worthington) has been working with them and it seems to be paying off. He's a coach the kids respond to. He was just here so they know what they need to do to get to where he was and beyond. They take what he says to heart and it seems to be working."
So does a lot of what Montgomery is doing. Goetz is 13 for 22 in his last six games, Shadle has consistently been getting on base and Alexander has been reliable in the middle of the lineup as has been Bartlett.
The defense has made a lot of strides too and played an error-less game yesterday. The Raiders are focused on eliminating those sprints and playing for an extended period.
"Everybody in here is always up. It doesn't matter who is on the mound or at the plate, we are up," Alexander said. "We have a lot of fans coming out and supporting us and we just want to come out and get the job done."
Bucktail001 00-1 3 2
Montgomery200 9x-11 7 0
Tony Saltsman, Trent Risley (3), Colin Burrows (4) and Kevin Probst. Marcus Bartlett and Mike Alexander. W-Bartlett, (5-2). L-Saltsman, (3-4).
Top Bucktail hitters: Saltsman 1-2, RBI; K. Probst 1-2; Chuck Probst 1-3. Top Montgomery hitters: Thomas Goetz 1-3, 2 RBI, 2 R; Bartlett 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI; Jake Miller 1-2, RBI, R; Zach Shadle 1-1, RBI; Alexander 2-3, RBI, R.
Records: Montgomery 12-6. Bucktail 9-4.