Bessey Motors pitcher Blake Slicer celebrates after the final out of a 9-7 victory over Gardiner in Paris on Tuesday. Bessey Motors catcher Wyatt Williamson heads out to meet Slicer, while Gardiner’s Kolton Brochu turns toward his dugout.
PARIS — All summer long, the teams in Zone 2 playing American Legion baseball in the state competed for seven innings of regulation.
If that’s all Gardiner had to play Tuesday, the underdogs of the Zone 2 tournament might have come away with a big upset victory.
Instead, Gardiner had to battle top-seeded Bessey Motors for nine innings, and that upset bid came up short. No. 1 Bessey Motors scored five times in the bottom of the eighth to rally past No. 8 Gardiner 9-7 at Tim Bryant Memorial Field.
“Coach (Shane) Slicer and I talked before the game started that a team like ours can come in any day and show up and stress out a team just like their’s,” Gardiner manager Russell Beckwith said.
Stress Bessey Motors out is just what Gardiner (1-18) did right off the bat. Kolton Brochu hit a one-out double in the top of the first, and Nick Sanborn tripled in two runs three batters later for an early lead.
“We’d seen the arms in the past from this group, so it was looking fastball early, is really what we attempted to do,” Beckwith said. “From the get-go, driving the ball deep was a big part of getting us going in that first inning. Staying on that fastball and driving it to the alleys was really what we were trying to do.”
“I think it was a wake-up call for us,” Slicer said.
Bessey Motors (15-4) had a chance to respond in the bottom of the frame, but Cam Slicer was stranded at third after leading off with a single and moving around the bases on a pair of groundouts.
Troy Johnson settled in after allowing the two extra-base hits in the first, retiring seven straight batters after Sanborn’s triple.
Sanborn started on the mound for Gardiner and kept the Bessey Motors offense relatively quiet for three innings before leaving with a tweak in his arm. He gave up three hits in the second, scoring one run, but stranded the bases loaded with an assist from bad Bessey Motors baserunning. A Gardiner error in the third led to an unearned run given up by Sanborn, which tied the game 2-2.
Any momentum Bessey Motors started to gain was taken right back by Gardiner in the top of the fourth. Ryan Kappelmann led off with a single, then Sanborn connected on one of his own. A forceout erased Sanborn but put Kappelmann at third, and Oakley Oliver drove him to put Gardiner on top once again.
“This group battled quite a bit this year,” Beckwith said. “I know that our record and our situation with the program this summer was a little down, but the group that we had here — especially the ones that were here with us today — they have fought all year.”
“That’s a pretty pesky group,” Slicer said.
Jackson Ladd took over for Sanborn on the mound and kept Bessey Motors from erupting. Ladd fired a 1-2-3 frame in the fourth before stranding a pair of runners in the fifth.
That gave the Gardiner offense time to gear up again, and Sanborn was right in the middle of it. Kappelmann reached on an error with one out, and Sanborn followed with a single for his third hit of the game. Logan Porter also singled to load the bases, then Oliver doubled in two runs, knocking out Johnson. Blake Slicer came on and allowed a run on a sacrifice bunt from Cole Lawrence and another on a wild pitch.
“My only job there was to just try to get us out of the inning,” Blake Slicer said. “Unfortunately they scored, but we battled it out.”
Slicer made amends in the bottom of the inning by driving in pinch runner Jonny Pruett with a single, cutting the Gardiner lead to 7-3.
“That was good for me, getting some confidence at the plate,” Blake Slicer said. “And then for our team it kind of picked us up a little bit. We were kind of coasting a little. Getting that one run, I think we scored every inning after that, so that really helped jumpstart it.”
“When Blake came in I think it settled things down a little bit,” Shane Slicer said. “His fire helped a lot, knowing that he’s going to probably do a good job of shutting them down and we have a chance to come back.”
Slicer didn’t allow a hit in his three-plus innings of work. He didn’t record any more hits of his own, either, but the rest of the Bessey Motors offense picked up its pace.
An Emery Chickering double in the seventh brought Bessey Motors to within 7-4, setting up a more manageable comeback in the eighth.
“I was glad for the nine-inning game,” Shane Slicer said. “I had to keep reminding them ‘We got five more innings to come back, we got four more innings. This is a nine-inning game.’ And they just kept believing. We finally got some crucial hits down the stretch and some good at-bats.”
Beckwith brought in Kappelmann to pitch the bottom of the eighth after Ladd lasted four innings. The Bessey Motors bats gave Kappelmann a rude welcome, however.
“We were watching him warm-up a little bit and he was up in the zone. Anything above the belly button wasn’t a strike all game,” Shane Slicer said. “We all made a decision not to swing the bat until we got a strike at that point, and see if he can start commanding the strike zone. So the guys just executed what I asked of them.”
Hunter LaBossiere led off by drawing a walk on four pitches. Janek Luksza followed with a single that moved LaBossiere to third, then Ashton Kennison connected on the next pitch for an RBI single. Brayden Bean drew his count to 3-0 before singling in another run, cutting the deficit to 7-6.
Kappelmann sandwiched a pair of outs around a hit-by-pitch to get to two outs with the bases loaded, but Bessey Motors pressed on. Wyatt Williamson walked to score the tying run and Cam Slicer walked on four pitches to bring home the winning run.
“We had that big inning at the end where we came in with a new arm and had a little bit of a tough time throwing strikes for us, and that’s kind of what you need late,” Beckwith said. “We had a couple more arms that were available, but just tried to stay with our gut there and it didn’t work out.
“It’s tough because Ryan’s a real good kid. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, he loves the game of baseball, and it’s tough to see a kid (go through that).”
Lawrence relieved Kappelmann and gave up an RBI single to LaBossiere before finally getting out of the inning.
Gardiner, to its credit, put three runners on in the top of the ninth against Slicer, though a caught-stealing made for the first out. A three-pitch strikeout for the second out was followed by a four-pitch walk. A 3-2 count led to another walk, but Slicer induced a fly-out to right to end the game.
“It was stressful for sure, but that’s why you play,” Blake Slicer said. “Times like that, it’s fun.”
Both father and son Slicers admitted that their team took Gardiner lightly. That won’t be the case Wednesday when Bessey Motors hosts No. 4 Rogers Post.
“We’ll be much more ready to play tomorrow,” Shane Slicer said.
Gardiner’s Logan Porter connects on a pitch during a 9-7 loss to Bessey Motors in Paris on Tuesday.
Gardiner third baseman Casey Dion turns his attention to Bessey Motors’ Troy Johnson sliding after Dion couldn’t get to an errant throw during a 9-7 Bessey Motors win in Paris on Tuesday.Bessey Motors’ Ashton Kennison slides head-first into home during a 9-7 win over Gardiner in Paris on Tuesday.Gardiner starter Nick Sanborn fires a pitch during a 9-7 loss to Bessey Motors in Paris on Tuesday.Bessey Motors’ Janek Luksza makes contact with a pitch during a 9-7 win over Gardiner in Paris on Tuesday.