BRANDON — Trailing by a run in the bottom of the seventh with the bases empty and down to their last batter, No. 9 hitter Colton Aines, the Otter Valley Union High School baseball team on Monday rallied to tie visiting Springfield and then win in eight innings, 3-2.
The comeback made for a successful varsity debut for new coach Tim Mitchell, who had seen eight Otters reach base through six innings, but only one score as the Cosmos took a 2-1 lead into the seventh.
But Mitchell said his team never got discouraged, even when making costly baserunning miscues — earlier in the game, two Otters were picked off, both with no outs.
“I love it. They just didn’t quit,” Mitchell said. “It was tough to make it happen. Finally it came through.”
Senior Alex Alger played a huge role in the win. He earned the pitching win with three innings of scoreless relief, including stranding an inherited runner at third base with no outs in the sixth, and singled in pinchrunner Tyler Quenneville with the tying run in the seventh.
Alger replayed afterwards what the Otters told themselves when they were trailing in the late going.
“The game’s not over yet. Keep playing. We’re going to get it,” he said.
OV sophomore starting pitcher Brett Patterson and Cosmo lefty Jeremy Currie traded zeroes through four innings. Patterson did not allow a hit in the first four frames, striking out four and getting solid defensive support. He allowed only three baserunners through four, on two walks and one of OV’s two errors, and catcher Thomas Roberts threw one out stealing and picked another off first base.
OV had five hits through four, but Patterson was picked off second after singling and stealing second in the second inning, and sophomore Jimmy Winslow was picked off by Currie, a lefty with a nice move to first, after a leadoff single in the fourth. Senior Rob Kelley pounded a double to right center later in the inning, making that play look more painful.
The Cosmos took the lead in the fifth. They loaded the bases on a Billy Wheeler single, an error on a sacrifice bunt, and Currie’s bunt single. James Ribeiro lined a sacrifice fly to right, but Patterson worked out of further trouble.
In the sixth, Patterson walked the leadoff hitter, and burly Cosmo third baseman Taylor Fontaine boomed a double off the left-field fence to score a run, and reached third base on the throw home. Mitchell called Alger, a four-year varsity veteran, to the mound, and Alger stranded Fontaine with a grounder to the mound, a strikeout and a liner to Aines at second.
Alger also retired the Cosmos in order in the seventh and eighth, striking out two. In all, Alger set down nine in a row and got flawless defensive support from Aines at second, Winslow at short and Patterson at third.
OV scored once in the sixth off reliever Eric White. Ryan Kelley beat out a grounder to the shortstop hole, and Patterson laced a two-out line drive double to left to score him.
In the seventh, the hard-throwing Wheeler came on for the Cosmos and quickly racked up two strikeouts. But Aines hung in and dropped an opposite-field double down the right-field line, bringing up Alger. Alger went with a fastball and poked it between first and second, and Quenneville, a speedy senior running for Aines, raced home easily.
OV almost won in seven. Junior Nate Fitzgerald also popped a ground-ball single to right, moving Alger to third, and Mitchell called for a squeeze bunt with Ryan Kelley at the plate. Kelley got the bunt down, but Wheeler cut down Alger at the plate on a close play, and it was on to the eighth.
Alger mowed the Cosmos down, and it was the Otters’ turn. Winslow worked a leadoff walk, and with one out Rob Kelley hit a slow roller to third. It snuck under the third baseman’s glove, and Winslow raced around and beat the left fielder’s throw to third. Meanwhile, Kelley took off for second, and the third baseman tried to nail him there. His throw sailed into right field, and Winslow danced home, clapping his hands, with the winning run.
Mitchell said a successful seventh-inning squeeze bunt would have been a prettier ending, but that he would accept the end result.
“I would have loved to win it with a walk-off squeeze play, but it’ll work,” he said. “I’m not complaining.”
In the end, Mitchell noted that despite the Otters’ earlier baserunning miscues, it was their aggressive baserunning that helped create the winning score. And he pointed to the Otters’ solid defense.
“They made it happen. I’m very proud of them,” he said.
Alger said the Otters, including many younger athletes who have played for Mitchell on successful Babe Ruth teams, have a positive approach this spring.
“The team is feeling good, really good,” he said. “We’re feeling like we’re going to win a lot of games this year.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.