Cutters fall after getting back into the game

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Josh Stephen of the Crosscutters is safe at home on a single in the fourth inning ahead of West Virginia catcher Deon Stafford.

Williamsport had finally clawed back to even Monday night at Bowman Field when Nick Maton ended an 11-pitch at-bat with a sacrifice fly to tie the game in the seventh inning.

Four consecutive innings of scratching out a run had gotten the Crosscutters back to even with West Virginia. Then it all fell apart.

West Virginia had four consecutive batters reach base in the top of the eighth inning with two outs, two of which scored, handing the Black Bears a 6-5 win over Williamsport. The Cutters put the tying run on third base in the bottom of the ninth inning, but closer Joel Cesar induced a groundout to end the threat.

That eighth inning was a microcosm of Williamsport’s night. It allowed two out runs for the third time in the game. And for the third time, the pitching staff allowed a run directly after the offense had scored.

Williamsport fell to 2 1/2 games behind West Virginia in the Wild Card race, and three games behind Mahoning Valley in the Pinckney Division on the first day of the second half of the season.

“That late in the game, when that happens, it’s not something you want to do when you’re trying to get back in it,” Cutters center fielder Adam Haseley said. “I think it was pretty back-and-forth the whole game. But we fought back.”

It wasn’t that the West Virginia offense blitzed the Williamsport pitching staff for its 11 hits. Instead, they were timely, like throwing two-out daggers at a Crosscutters staff trying to wiggle out of jams.

And it was enough to continually counteract the picket fence Williamsport put on the scoreboard, scoring a single run in the fourth through eighth innings. When Haseley tied the game at 1-1 with his second home run of the season in the fourth, West Virginia rallied with a two-run triple from Tristan Gray in the top of the fifth.

When Malvin Matos got Williamsport within one in the fifth, Harrisburg native Deon Stafford doubled home a run with two outs in the sixth. And when Maton battled through 11 pitches to tie the game, Bligh Madris hit an RBI single and later scored on a throwing error, both with two outs, to put the Black Bears ahead for good.

“It happens,” Williamsport manager Pat Borders said of the two-out runs. “You want to eliminate them and try to figure out why and how they happen. But it’s just baseball and it happens. Ultimately you’re developing kids and a negative situation like giving up two-out hits you can turn into a positive if you learn something from it.”

But not lost in the setback was a grind of a performance from the Williamsport offense against starting pitcher Scooter Hightower who a little more than a month ago struck out 10 and didn’t allow a hit against the Cutters at Bowman Field.

Haseley got to him first, launching a 2-2 pitch into the West Virginia bullpen for his second home run of the season, and his first since July 7. The first-round pick battled back from an 0-2 deficit to put Williamsport on the board.

Both his home runs have come to the opposite field.

“I think it just caught a little bit of the plate,” Haseley said. “I just tried to put a good swing on it. I’ve hit a couple balls over there to left that were close to the wall. This one just got over.”

“That’s impressive for anyone to go opposite field like that, straight down the line,” Borders said. “It didn’t have any tail to it. It didn’t have any drift to it. It was all backspin. If you can do that, you’ve got power.”

Malvin Matos and Jake Scheiner followed with RBI singles in the fifth and sixth innings to get Williamsport within a run. When Maton stepped to the plate in the seventh, Williamsport had the bases loaded with just one out. After getting ahead 3-0, Maton eventually had to foul off five consecutive two-strike pitches before driving a fly ball to left field to score Matos with the tying run.

The Cutters added another run in the eighth when Haseley scored on a balk, but the two-run eighth inning for West Virginia was enough to send the Black Bears to the win.

“That was a pretty impressive at-bat from Maton,” Borders said. “They’re fighting good. That’s a learning process, too, and it’ll make them better players tomorrow because of the way they fought the last two days.”

“I think everyone takes every at-bat they get really seriously,” Haseley said. “Especially in a game like that where the crowd was really getting into it. That was pretty intense.”

Starting pitcher Luis Carrasco grinded through his five innings, minimizing damage where he could. He allowed three runs and six hits, but the damage could have been much worse.

The hard-throwing right-hander left a runner in scoring position in the first, two more in the second, and another in both the fourth and fifth innings. It wasn’t nearly as incendiary as his six-inning, nine-strikeout performance his last time out. But it was an impressive performance of keeping the damage as minimal as possible and giving the offense a chance to get back in the game.

“That’s a good exercise for him because he needs that challenge and it’ll make him grow,” Borders said. “He scuffled through and he pitched a little bit, which is good to see out of a younger kid. He’s been known to walk a couple guys and get out of the zone. (Monday) he stayed in the zone and around the zone and he kept us in the game. I thought he did really well. That was a good tester game, and he passed.”