And, like every other team in the tournament, the Mustangs and Blue Raiders knew a loss would end the season for whoever came up short in the battle to stay alive.
Monday night after a near classic pitchers’ duel, Cleveland came alive at the plate late in the game and Taylor Thompson did his job on the mound to eliminate Walker Valley with a 4-2 win.
“It was a great game. It was a pitching duel all the way through and finally we put a string of hits together and scored some runs, then scored a bonus run in the sixth,” said Cleveland coach Ted Carson.
The Blue Raiders return to the diamond tonight in another win or go home situation against the Bradley Central Bears. The first pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m.
For coach Joe Shamblin and the Mustangs, the summer will be spent going over the “what ifs” after the season-ending loss.
“That was a tough one. We had a little momentum going into the sixth inning but couldn’t pull it off. But, that’s the way it goes sometimes. Cleveland did what they had to do. Taylor pitched a great game for them and we just didn’t get the job done,” said Shamblin.
With Kamren Barnes on the mound for Walker Valley and Thompson handling pitching duties for Cleveland, the duo tossed nearly identical first innings. Barnes and the Mustangs sat the Raiders down in order with the only difference for Thompson being a walk with two outs.
After fanning the first two batters he faced in the top of the second, Barnes gave up the first hit of the night to Cleveland catcher Koltyn Plumb. A fly ball to right field put an end to the mini threat.
Walker Valley’s Chase Prince picked up the first hit for the Mustangs with a double to left that bounced over the outstretched glove of Cleveland left fielder reed Allison, who quickly recovered in time to get the throw to the infield to nail a sliding Prince at third.
It was the Raiders’ turn to make some noise in their half of the third. Bryson Murray got it started with a one-out double to right field. He found his way to third after a single to center off the bat of Austin Dykes. With runners at the corners, Barnes picked up the second out with his sixth strikeout in three innings. His seventh K ended the threat and preserved the tie.
The Mustangs reversed the situation on the Raiders in the bottom of the inning, getting runners on first and third after a Cleveland error and Logan Melton single. Melton took second on a steal to put a pair of runners in scoring position before Taylor got out number two on his fourth strikeout of the night. A walk to Barnes loaded the bases for the Mustangs. Taylor, who struggled a bit in the inning, reached back and ended the Mustangs’ at bat with his fifth K of the game.
“We had the bases loaded, runners on second and third in the third and we struck out both times. You can’t do that and expect to advance in the tournament, especially in such an evenly matched district tournament,” Shamblin said.
The Raiders would later take advantage of the Walker Valley missed opportunity.
“Anytime you make them leave guys on base, that gives you a little bit of lift. Next time I hope we don’t wait that long to score some runs,” said Carson.
After a quiet fourth, the Mustangs tried to stir things up in the bottom of the fifth, beginning with a one-out walk to Elijah Haynie. A fielder’s choice erased Haynie, but Melton took his would-be place at second on a stolen base. Caleb Longley’s solid single to right broke the deadlock giving Walker Valley a 1-0 lead. Barnes followed with a slow-roller single to third to put runners at first and third. A perfect throw to third by Cleveland catcher Plumb cut down a sliding Longley on a steal attempt for the third out.
The Raiders came to life in the top of the sixth after Jake Wyrick worked Barnes for a two-out walk and Mike Powers ripped a blistering single to left. Thompson stepped in and took matters into his own hands lifting a two RBI double to the fence in left to put the Raiders out front 2-1. Cleveland kept the rally going and took a 3-1 lead when Plumb cracked a line drive RBI single to left. A tiring Barnes gave up a walk to Reed Allison, putting runners at first and second and still with two outs. But, the junior reached back and picked up his 12th strikeout of the night to put a stop to the Cleveland outburst.
Walker Valley went down in order in the bottom of the frame.
Cleveland upped its lead to 4-1 in the Raiders’ half of the seventh on an RBI double by Kimsey Bell to deep right center. Wyrick stepped in the box and took one off the helmet, prompting Shamblin to pull Barnes in favor of Prince.
“Kamren pitched a great game. He did all he could to help us. We just fell a little short,” said the Mustangs’ coach.
Barnes fanned 12 Blue Raiders while giving up seven hits and one walk.
With runners on second and first with one out, Powers greeted the new Mustang hurler with a sacrifice fly to right for the second out. A strikeout by Prince squelched the fire giving the Mustangs one final chance to extend their season.
Prince walked to the plate and helped keep the Mustangs alive with a lead-off single to right and Bradley Smith put runners on second and first with a single to center. Thompson got the first out for Cleveland with a fly ball to right and the second on a catch in foul territory by left fielder Allison. Walker Valley’s Longley made sure the night did not end then when he hit an RBI double down the right-field line to make it 4-2. Thompson sent the Raiders into Tuesday’s meeting with the Bears with a strikeout to end the game.
“Taylor did a great job on the mound and kept them off stride there in the last inning. Their down-the-order guys were hitting the ball and Taylor bowed up and got them out. Taylor has given us great performances all year long. I was proud of the way he played and proud of the way our kids responded,” Carson said of his winning pitcher.
Taylor finished with seven strikeouts and allowed seven hits along with three walks.
The Raiders have only a short time to rest and revamp before facing off against Bradley Central.
“I hope with this being a late game we are able to get home and get some rest and be ready to go tomorrow,” said Carson.
BLUE RAIDERS 4, MUSTANGS 2
Cleveland 000 003 1 — 4 7 1
Walker Valley 000 010 1 — 2 7 1
WP: Taylor Thompson. LP: Kamren Barnes. 2B: Chase Prince (WV); Kimsey Bell, Thompson, Jay McIntire (C). Other highlights: Koltyn Plumb 2-3 (C).