The first inning nearly became the final straw for the Indiana Bulls on Friday.
After coughing up four runs with two outs against the KC Clutch in the 11u invite-only TCSB Division I Championships, the Bulls were one out away from being shut down in their half of the inning at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex. But JT Stiner knocked in two runs with a single, the team followed up with three more runs, and the Bulls held on for a tight 6-5 victory to advance in the winner’s bracket.
The Bulls, who were the No. 1 seed after pool play and posted a 10-1 victory earlier Friday against West Coast Baseball (CA), will meet No. 2 Five Star Tigers DeMarini (FL) at 10 a.m. Saturday for a chance to earn a spot in the best-of-3 championship matchup for the 11u crown.
KC Clutch tied the game at 5-all in the top of the second but were unable to get back on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the Bulls went ahead for good in the bottom of the third on a sacrifice fly from Cole Sigler, and the game had that nail-biter flavor for the final three innings.
“It would have been very easy for us to hang our dauber and be down about those four runs. The way they scored, with us making errors, giving up triples on 0-2 counts, hitting batters on 0-2 counts, is not the way we usually play,” said Bulls coach Rick Stiner. “I was proud of the boys for coming back.”
Denny Hogan pitched well through the adversity and then let reliever Max Linder take over the final two innings. Despite his modest stature, Linder pitched fearlessly and closed it out, getting a sprinting, lunging catch from Sigler in left-center in the fifth and then holding up in the sixth after an infield error to register the final out on a grounder to shortstop.
“We were able to succeed as a team. The coaches wanted us after yesterday to play more as a team and not focus on individuals,” said Sigler, who drove in two runs. “On the catch, I saw the ball … we’ve been working on fly balls a lot, and I knew what I had to do. That catch felt good, and I thought I had it the whole time.”
“I was super excited when he caught that – I thought I was pretty much dead if he didn’t and that it would have been a triple,” Linder said with a smile. “I try to stay calm (pitching) and throw strikes, and I know I can.”
“Hogan Denny did a nice job, and we wanted to change the pace,” Stiner added. “Cole went back and made a heck of a catch, and it’s good to see the work we’ve put in there come to fruition in game situations.”
RJ Cromartie and Wyatt Bennett also drove in runs for the Bulls in the game; Chris Coy drove in a run for the Clutch, and teammate Blake Neis drove in two runs with a triple. The Clutch will face Team Derty-Dirty South Bats (TX) on Saturday in the loser’s bracket.