Shane Rutledge saw his Bearcats grow up Friday night.
Utilizing a new-look infield out of necessity due to injuries, Long Beach got off to a sluggish start against visiting East Central. The Bearcats dug themselves into a hole early but flipped a switch late in the second inning. They stopped booting the ball, buckled down on the mound and, most importantly, began plating runs. Cashing in on three-run innings in the second and fifth, Long Beach rallied to knock off the Hornets 8-5.
The victory came one day after East Central won a pitcher’s duel between the two teams 2-0 in Hurley.
“There’s a momentum you have to turn. It’s when they grow up, whenever they can do that,” LBHS coach Shane Rutledge said. “It wasn’t any one thing (Friday). It was just guys putting together at-bats and making plays. They fed off of each other.”
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East Central (2-5) plated one run in the first and then opened the game up in the second with a four-run inning. Consecutive errors followed by back-to-back doubles from Louis Morgan and Brad Cumbest pushed East Central ahead 5-0. At that point it looked like the game at Michael Rutledge Stadium might be a rout, but Rutledge didn’t panic. He remained confident in right-hander Austin Allen and was rewarded.
Dalton Cook started the rally, scoring on a wild pitch. Dylan Bursell then delivered a two-run single to right field, pulling LBHS within two runs, 5-3.
LBHS ended up chasing two ECHS pitchers in the decisive fifth inning. Back-to-back singles by Bursell and Kai Van Court, who was starting his first varsity game at second base, led off the inning. Clayton Maxwell then loaded the bases after being plunked. Following a pitching change, Justin Lockey scored Bursell after East Central’s catcher’s mitt nipped his bat. Cody Crosby tied the game on a bases-loaded walk before Cook gave the homestanding Bearcats (4-4) their first lead on an RBI-single to right field.
LBHS added to its lead in the sixth thanks to an RBI-single to right by Lockey and a sacrifice bunt by Crosby.
“Being patient and negotiating their way onto base helped. We have a couple guys who can really swing it, but we’re not that team that just stands up there and bangs it off the walls,” Rutledge said of the team’s small ball approach Friday. “I just want to score runs. I tell the guys base runners pay the bills and we have to get them home.
“If it’s a ground ball in the middle of the field with less than two outs we’ll take it. We’re happy to play for a run, but we want to do it a bunch of times.”
Allen, a right-handed submarine pitcher, finished the game with seven strikeouts over six innings before giving way to Scotty Spears for the save.
“If he throws too hard up (in the stike zone), then it’s flat,” Rutledge said of Allen. “When he’s down it sinks so he gets a lot of ground balls. You saw how he wore out Charlie (Wescovich) and Bursell at the end with ground ball after ground ball.”
Rutledge commended Spears on his fourth consecutive shutout appearance. Through four games, Spears has yet to surrender a run in 6 2/3 innings. His strikeout to close the game gave him 11 on the season.
“That kid is on fire,” Rutledge said. “His strikeout-to-batter faced is just ungodly. He just comes in and throws it at the mitt. He throws hard and has developed a power breaking ball.”
This is us
Although both games ended up being nail biters that went down to the final innings, Rutledge reveled in the team’s 1-1 split with the Hornets.
“This is why we’ve scheduled those guys for 20 years,” he said. “Even though they have changed classifications and been in and out of our district, we always make sure we play each other because we’ve never played when it wasn’t a dog fight.”