READFIELD — If ever a baseball game called for a walk-off “sacrifice” bunt by the winning team’s cleanup hitter, Wednesday’s Mountain Valley Conference season-opener between Telstar and Dirigo was it.
Boston Ludden scored the winning run from second on Josh Eliot’s bunt in the bottom of the seventh, the result of a fittingly-wild finish to a wild and sloppy 6-5 game that was moved to Kents Hill’s Huard Field due to unplayable field conditions at Telstar.
Dirigo sent the game to the bottom of the seventh after Bryce Whittemore’s two-out, two-run double in the top of the frame tied it. Ludden and Tanner Wheeler got the winning rally started with back-to-back singles and were at first and second with none out when Eliot dropped his bunt down in front of home plate.
Whittemore, the catcher, fielded the ball with his bare hand, bobbled it, then fired an off-balance throw past the first baseman into short right field. Telstar coach John Eliot stopped Ludden at third, but Wheeler ended up being caught between second and third as Dirigo retrieved the ball.
Dirigo threw to second to try to nab Wheeler, which was all Ludden needed to get the green light for home, where he slid in just before Whittemore’s tag to end it.
“We talked about (a sacrifice bunt) and I knew the batter behind me was just as good and could get the ball in play to drive the run home. But that was just fortunate circumstances that happened there,” Josh Eliot said. “You do enough with it and eventually someone will make a mistake and you can really capitalize on it.”
“You know he’s capable of hitting one that’s in the gap and scoring the run to win, but I felt like they know Josh is the No. 4 hitter and they weren’t expecting him to bunt,” John Eliot said. “He laid a perfect bunt down, and you know when that happens people start to get nervous and the ball can go anywhere.”
The ball did go just about anywhere and everywhere on a day that was essentially both teams’ second outside all spring. At least the turf field was a reasonable facsimile of the gym floors they have been practicing on. But the two teams combined for eight errors and several additional mental mistakes that could be attributed to a lack of time on the field.
“I thought we beat ourselves,” said Dirigo coach Ryan Palmer, whose team committed five of the errors. “We’re not a smart — and right now, we’re not a good — baseball team. A lot of mental mistakes happened by our upperclassmen that just can’t happen.”
After leaving the bases loaded with one out in the second, the Rebels broke through for four runs in the third, with the help of three Dirigo errors. Devin Mason’s RBI double was the big hit in the inning.
Wheeler (eight Ks, five walks, one hit, two hit batters in five innings) started on the mound for the Rebels and kept the Cougars off-balance early with a sharp curve.
“We said before the game that we’ve got to hop on Tanner’s fastball. He’s one of the best pitcher’s in the conference. Don’t allow him to throw the curve ball because we’re not used to that yet. It’s going to take a while,” Palmer said.
Wildness started to set in for Wheeler in the fourth, when he loaded the bases on walks and threw a wild pitch to score Dirigo’s first run. Two hit batters, a walk, a balk and an error plated two more in the fifth to close the margin to 4-3.
“I thought Tanner Wheeler threw a heck of a first three innings,” John Eliot said. “In the fourth inning, he started getting a little cold and then his pitch count got up.”
Kellen True’s inside the park home run on a fly ball that went over the center fielder’s head gave the Rebels insurance int he sixth. After running through a stop sign at third, a sliding True just beat a diving Whittemore’s tag at the plate.
“It’s kind of funny because last year I did the same thing in the first game and then I pretty much struck out for the rest of the season,” True said. “I knew he was going to throw it down the middle because it was a 3-1 count and I just swung it down and crushed it. On this turf (with no outfield fence), it’s just going to bounce and roll forever. I knew I had enough speed to get around the bases in time.”
“Kellen got lucky,” John Eliot said. “He beat it by just a hair at the plate. I was holding him (at third) and he went. I told him ‘Good thing you made it.'”
Adding to the damage of the loss for Dirigo was losing lefthanded reliever Cam Turner, who was hit in his pitching hand by a foul ball while standing in the on-deck circle in the fifth. He had to leave the game and was taken to a hospital for x-rays.
Boston Ludden, right, of Telstar High Schhol beats the tag from Dirigo catcher Bryce Whittemore to win the game 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh inning at Kents Hill High School on Wednesday. Ludden scored on a sacrifice bunt.
Kellen True of Telstar High School celebrates after hitting an inside the park home run to put the Rebels up 5-3 during the sixth inning against Dirigo on Wednesday.
Dirigo high school catcher Bryce Whittemore puts the tag on Zach Hill of Telstar for the out in Kents Hill on Wednesday.
Dirigo High School relief pitcher Cooper Chiasson bare hands a hopper against Telstar in Kents Hill on Wednesday.