AUBURN — Many a pitcher has wilted under the pressure of St. Dom’s daring brand of small ball. Telstar’s Ben Field was ready for it and stood even taller than his 6-foot-5 frame.
Field tossed a four-hit complete game and Telstar took advantage of some rare St. Dom’s mistakes to pull off a 2-1 victory in a tense MVC contest Saturday.
Field struck out six, walked one and hit a batter to out-duel Saints southpaw Kurt Johnson, who was just about as impressive in defeat (7 IP, 1 earned run, 5 hits, 5 K’s, 3 walks).
“They’re a good team, so I just tried to throw hard the whole game and tried to be consistent throwing strikes,” said the low-key Field. “My curve ball really didn’t work too much at first, but it seemed to come through a lot more towards the end.”
Telstar coach Bob Remington said he prepared Field mentally for Saturday’s start by using Dirigo ace Arik Fenstermacher, who has beaten the Rebels (9-2) twice this season, as an example.
“I liked his composure and his intensity,” Remington said. “We had talked about that this week. We had used Fenstermacher’s performance as a demonstration of ‘This is what it looks like, Ben. You’ve got to look like that on the mound. You have control of the ballgame.’ Then we talked about things like throw a strike and then throw, let the pitch go, because he’s held back at times.”
Field held nothing back in his final two innings after the Rebels scored an unearned run in the top of the sixth to take the lead. He caught a big break in the sixth when lead-off hitter Joe Bryant appeared to reach on a dropped third strike after catcher T.J. O’Connor’s throw for the putout pulled the first baseman off the bag. Bryant, however, was called out for running out of the base line, erasing the potential tying run.
“I didn’t know it until the ump called it,” Field said. “That’s a load off of your chest.”
Field retired the next four hitters, then hit Dan Nadeau in the upper back with a pitch with two out. A pitch in the dirt got the tying run into scoring position, but O’Connor cut down the pinch runner trying to steal third to end it.
While Field was trying to gain command of his curve, Johnson gave the Rebels a steady diet of his from start to finish.
“It was a good playoff-style game,” St. Dom’s coach Bob Blackman said. “Kurt kept us in it with his off-speed. They hit a couple of balls hard, but other than the last out, the balls that they did hit hard were all fastballs.”
Johnson struck out three in the second (all of his K’s were looking), but Tyler Brown (2-for-3) led off with a single, stole second and scored on Devin Vail’s line-drive single to left.
“I was more sitting on that fastball because I knew he was going to throw curves,” Vail said. “I was waiting for it and it came belt high and I just ripped it.”
“Tyler Brown came to play baseball today,” Remington said. “He’s been kind of struggling, but he got that hit, he stole that base, and I would have had to tackle him coming around third to stop him.
A rare lapse by Field allowed the Saints (9-2) to tie it in the third. After he threw out a runner at second on a sacrifice bunt attempt for the first out, Field had a chance to try for a double play, or at least get the lead runner at second, on Alex Parker’s subsequent grounder back to the mound. But he elected to just get Parker at first, and Will Desmarais promptly ripped a high fastball for an RBI single. Desmarais stole second and went to third when O’Connor’s throw went into center field, but Field stranded him there. He left another runner at third with two out in the fifth.
Johnson stranded a runner at second in the third and fourth then suffered some tough luck in the sixth. Field reached to start the inning when a bouncer to third handcuffed Jimmy Theriault on an in-between hop. Following a fly-out, Brown singled to put runners at first and second.
After catching Drew Wilson looking at a curve, Johnson appeared to be out of trouble when he induced a ground ball to first by Nick Mills. But the ball went through the legs of Drew Gosselin and Field chugged around third to score what proved to be the winning run. St. Dom’s appealed at third, claiming Field missed the bag, but the appeal was denied.
Not counting strikeouts and the base stealer thrown out, twelve of the remaining 14 St. Dom’s outs came via the ground ball, including a couple of nice plays in the hole by shortstop Dan Whitney.
“I would have liked to see us put a little bit more balls in play hard,” Blackman said. “Whitney played a good game at shortstop. With the grass as long and as wet as it was, it was giving him an opportunity to get to balls and he made plays. To me, he was their star.”
“This is crazy (big),” Vail said of the win. “We struggled against Dirigo but I think this will help us out confidence-wise.”