NEW MIDDLETOWN - South Range and Springfield took the field Monday to determine first place in the Inter-Tri County League upper tier and played a game befitting the top two teams in the league.
South Range centerfielder Bill Goodall executed a perfect squeeze bunt with one out in the top of the seventh to score Zach Thorpe from third and give the Raiders a 4-3 victory.
"I give all the credit in the world to Bill Goodall for getting that bunt down," South Range coach Jim Hanek said. "Bunting is such a little play, but it's a tough thing to execute in a pressure situation."
South Range moves to 13-3 overall and 9-0 in the ITCL upper tier, while Springfield falls to 11-3 overall and 8-1 in conference play.
In a game where the two teams were separated by a narrow margin, it seemed fitting that the winning run would score on a ball that barely left home plate.
Thorpe led off the seventh with the score tied at three and reached on a fielding error. He promptly stole second base and advanced to third on a fielders choice, setting the stage for Goodall.
Since the fifth inning, Hanek had been thinking about calling a squeeze if the Raiders got a runner on third, and with the count 0-1 to Goodall, he decided that the time was right and flashed the bunt signal from the third base coaching box.
Goodall got a fastball without much movement from Sprigfield pitcher James Hillyer and layed down a perfect bunt between the mound and the third base line. With Thorpe breaking for home on the pitch, the Tigers had no chance to defend the play, and Hillyer was forced to try and throw Goodall out at first.
"Between when I got the sign and when the pitch came, I really didn't have time to get nervous about it," Goodall said. "I just saw the pitch and tried to square up on it. With Zach (Thorpe) running, I knew I at least had to get a piece of it. Fortunately I got a good pitch to bunt on."
The Raiders were in position to win the game thanks to a dominant performance from starting pitcher Cory Deal.
The senior right-hander fell behind 3-0 in the first inning on back-to-back two-out singles by Dalton Donachie and Dom Gentsy but gathered himself and held the Tigers without a hit for the rest of the game. The only Tiger hitter to reach base after the first was Ryan Kohler who got hit by a pitch in the fifth.
"The first inning is one of the hardest for a pitcher," Deal said, "I didn't quite have a feel for the game early tonight, but I was able to settle down. I wouldn't have been able to do it without the guys behind me defensively. They were solid all night and allowed me to attack the strike zone knowing they'd make plays if the ball was hit."
"I can't say enough about Cory Deal," Hanek said. "He came up huge for us on the mound against Crestview last week and was able to rise to the occassion again tonight. He had excellent command of his off-speed pitches all game."
With Deal handcuffing the Tigers, South Range was able to claw back from the three-run deficit beginning in the third inning.
With runners at first and third and two out, Ross Stoffer battled back from an 0-2 count to draw a key walk and extend the inning. The next batter, Ryan Miller, looped a single to center off of Springfield starter Jordan Peterson to make the score 3-2.
In the sixth, Mason Miller led off with an infield single, stole second, and reached third of a fielders choice. With two outs, Greg Dunham struck out on a breaking pitch from Peterson, but Springfield catcher Hunter Snyder was not able to handle the delivery and the ball went to the backstop, with Miller racing home to tie the game.
In the seventh, Peterson was replaced by Hillyer before Goodall came to the plate. Of the four runs allowed by the Tiger right-hander only one was earned.
"I thought Jordan Peterson was outstanding tonight," Springfield coach Matt Weymer said. "Coming into this year we didn't know who our number two starter would be, and he was really staked a claim to that job with his performance. Unfortuantely tonight we just made too many fielding mistakes to win a close game.
It was during the pitching change in the seventh that Hanek alerted Goodall that he might call a squeeze.
"It just seemed like the right time," Hanek said. "We had some chances earlier in the game with runners in scoring postion, and with the way both teams were pitching, I knew there might not be many more opportunities. It's one of those plays where you just roll the dice and hope it works out."
"I have to hand it to Jim (Hanek), that was a heck of a call," Weymer said. "The way they executed the play, there wasn't a thing we could do about it."
Neither team will have much of a chance to dwell on the result. The Raiders and Tigers will face each other again on Tuesday at South Range to wrap up their two-game series.
"The win feels good right now, but this race is far from over," Hanek said. "When we wake up tomorrow, we have to be focused and ready to go."
SR-Cory Deal, wp, (7IP, 3K, 1BB) and Ryan Miller
SP-Jordan Peterson, lp, (6 1/3 IP 5H, 1ER, 2K, 1BB), James Hillyer (2/3 IP, 0H, 0ER, 0K, 0BB) and Hunter Snyder.