LOUISVILLE — Trailing 10-4 midway through the fifth inning against Edwards County, the North Clay Cardinals put on their rally caps and went to work.
Coach John Frech’s team added three runs to the board before the bottom of the seventh, and tacked on a pair in the final frame before Stetson Traub came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.
Now down a single run, Traub ignored the pressure and did his job, ripping a shot down the third base line that looked to be the game-winning at-bat. But EC third baseman Levi Rogers had other ideas. Rogers stretched out parallel to the grass to grab the fiery ground ball, touching third base with his glove and delivering a perfect toss to first that ended the game on a double play.
The Lions erupted in celebration, holding on for a 10-9 win to give the Cardinals (1-1) their first loss of the season.
Though North Clay battled back mightily from a six-run deficit, Frech said there is no excuse for allowing ten runs during the course of the game.
“It’s not the finish that you look at,” he said. “You look at it through the course of the game. We gave up ten runs, we made mistakes.”
Edwards County came to Louisville ready to play, chalking up four big runs in the first two innings to build an early lead. The Lions got two runners on base in the second after back-to-back singles from Brayden Cowling and Tanner Watkins, with Cowling crossing home plate one batter later on a wild pitch from Cardinals’ starting pitcher Dylan Walker.
With Watkins now on second, Cherokee Metcalf delivered a double over the head of North Clay center fielder Logan Hilderbrand that brought his teammate home and gave the Lions their 4-0 lead.
“We didn’t do what we were supposed to,” Frech said. “Our outfielders got burned on some balls.”
Hunter Clifton first got the Cardinals on the board in the second with his bomb that easily cleared the center field wall. The deep shot was a 3-run homer that cut the Lions lead to one after two innings.
On a frigid Wednesday afternoon where the temperature dipped well below 30 degress, the Cardinals’ pitchers struggled to find control. Tied at 4 after Hilderbrand hit a solo shot over the center field wall in the bottom of inning four, Edwards County busted the game open, at least momentarily, in the fifth.
Walker was relieved in favor of Nick McKnelly, who was put in a tough situation with runners on the corners and no outs. McKnelly walked his first two batters and hit his third, bringing home two runs. Nathan Utley plated two more with a double, and Cowling’s sac bunt brought Utley home two batters later. Edwards County tallied one more run for their sixth of the inning on an error, bringing the score to a 10-4 mark.
“That was kind of a thorn there,” Frech said. “We’ve got to be held accountable. Our pitching was not great.”
McKnelly was much improved from there, however, not allowing a run in the final two frames as the North Clay offense attempted its comeback.
Ahead 10-5, Utley took over on the mound for Edwards County in the sixth and began with two straight walks to Clifton and Walker. Dylan Bailey drove in Clifton on a double that cut the lead to four, and Lawson Britton plated another. Suddenly it became just a three-run ballgame.
In their last at-bats, Adam Cox and Hilderbrand singled to put two runners on the bags and the tying run at the plate. Nate Micklautz was walked immediately thereafter, before Clifton brought home his fourth and final run of the game on a sacrifice hit to right field, making it a two-run game.
Bailey was hit by a pitch two batters later for another run, and the bases were loaded for Rogers’ epic game-ending defensive play.
Despite the below freezing weather, Frech was satisfied with the North Clay offense.
“Our offense is going to be okay,” he said. “It’s our defense and our mentality a lot of times that we have to work on.”
Walker pitched four-plus innings for North Clay, striking out one Edwards County batter. McKnelly picked up the loss for the Cardinals, surrendering six runs in three innings of action while getting three Lions’ batters to whiff. Kevin Schuh was the winning pitcher for Edwards County, striking out three batters in five innings. Wyatt Mosson got the save.
It was a tough way to finish the game for the Cardinals, but Frech knows that there are brighter, and hopefully warmer, days ahead.
“In the second game, 17-degree weather, we’ll be okay,” he said. “It is what it is.”
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Edwards County 2 2 0 0 6 0 0 - 10
North Clay 0 3 0 1 1 2 2 - 9
WP-Schuh S-Mosson LP-McKnelly
North Clay: Clifton (3-R-HR, 1B, 4 RBI); Bailey (2B, 2 RBI); Hilderbrand (1B, 2B, HR, RBI); Cox (2 1B, RBI); Britton (2 1B, RBI).