Cutters fall on play at the plate
After applying the tag at home plate, Trenton Thunder catcher Cy Kerber turned toward the back stop and pumped his right fist.
“Let’s go!” Kerber shouted as his teammates streamed out of the dugout and the Williamsport Crosscutters’ Trey Steffler peeled himself off the home-plate dirt.
Cutters manager Billy Horton triple dog dared Thunder right fielder Garrett Thornton to make a perfect throw in the bottom of the ninth inning of a one-run game Sunday night at Bowman Field. On a shallow fly ball to right field, Horton could have held Steffler at third base. But he wanted to force Trenton to make a great defensive play.
Thornton answered the bell, firing a chest-high strike to Kerber which easily beat Steffler to the plate. And instead of having a tie game with two outs and the winning run on third base. Trenton walked off Bowman Field with a 9-8 win and a two-game series sweep of the Cutters.
“It was a 50-50 ball. I would have liked it to be a deeper ball,” Horton said. “Depending on the situation of the game, if it’s earlier in the game or if there’s nobody out, I’m probably not going to send him. But in that situation, if he doesn’t make a perfect throw, Trey is safe and Hogan (McIntosh) is also tagging and at third base and we’re a single away or a wild pitch away from winning the game.”
That the Cutters were even in position to win Sunday’s game was a minor miracle. They fell behind Trenton, 9-1, one night after losing the opener of the series, 14-2, in a game it fell behind by nine runs in three innings. Sunday wasn’t much different. Williamsport starting pitcher Nick Cosentino struggled to make the one big pitch necessary to get out of some tough spots, giving up six runs in 3 2/3 innings.
Trenton added three more runs against reliever Ben Terwilliger in the sixth inning to take a nine-run lead. The game was following a much similar script to that of Saturday’s game. Williamsport had just two hits and had struck out eight times through the first six innings.
But Williamsport put together its biggest inning of the season in the seventh. The first four batters of the inning reached base safely, capped by Damone Hale’s two-run single. Two batters later, Trey Romay added a sacrifice fly, and Chaz Salter smoked an RBI double down the first-base line to get the Cutters within striking distance at 9-5.
Salter ended up being the first of six consecutive Williamsport hitters to reach base after the second out of the inning was made on Romay’s sacrifice fly. Freddie Matos reached on a throwing error to extend the inning. Steffler hit an RBI single to center to score Salter. McIntosh walked to load the bases before Kyle Smith was hit by a pitch and Mitch Hundley was walked, both forcing in runs.
And all of a sudden Williamsport was within 9-8 and still had the bases loaded as Trenton made a pitching change. Hale grounded into fielder’s choice to end the inning, but the seven runs scored were the most for the Cutters in a single inning this year.
“Those big hits in the inning always help, but playing station to station like we did is what keeps the inning rolling and puts more pressure on the other team,” said Smith, who was 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI. “An inning like that starts one by one. It starts with the kid in the box. Our skip says, ‘pass the bat.’ That’s all we did and that’s how we were able to put up seven runs.”
“We’re just playing the game,” Horton said. “Each guy, they don’t even think about if that next guys is going to do it because they’re focused entirely on themselves. And it’s not in a selfish way. They can’t control what the next guy does. And if they think about him, it puts too much pressure on their shoulders. All they can focus on is what they do in this at-bat. Then pass the stick and keep things moving.”
That rally gave Williamsport a chance to snag a victory from a game it likely had no business winning. That and two shutout innings of relief from Holden Christian and Owen Holt. It set the table for the middle of the Cutters’ order to take a stab at finishing the comeback in the bottom of the ninth.
Steffler hit a one-out single to right field and McIntosh followed with a deep drive to right field for a double in which Thornton didn’t have a great route to. It was the second deep, catchable fly ball of the game in which Thornton struggled with his route. Both ended up falling for hits.
So when Smith lifted a first-pitch fly ball to Thornton after McIntosh’s double, even though it wasn’t as deep as either Smith or Horton would have liked, Horton and Steffler took a chance. And in this moment, Thornton made the perfect play, eliciting the jubilant response from Kerber at home plate.
“We had to force them to make a perfect play and the kid made a great throw,” Smith said. “It’s just part of baseball. But we fought all the way back to even put ourselves in that position in the first place, which is a good thing.”
“He made a great throw. You just tip your cap,” Horton said. “I can sit there in my office and mull it over and over. But it was one of those things where you have all those things rolling through your head the at-bat before saying if this happen, this is what we’re going to do. In that situation, I had about 4 seconds to think and I told Trey to tag. I completely think it was the right call and the kid made a good throw.”