FREDERICKTOWN — Nearly every time the Fredericktown Freddies and Utica Redskins get together on a baseball diamond something strange happens. That held true on Monday as the two teams met in Mid-Buckeye Conference action.
Utica struck first, but it was the Freddies who got the last laugh in an 8-7 victory. Fredericktown overcame an inside-the-park home run by Derek Beaver in the top of the seventh inning, after center fielder Matt Smith and left fielder Cole Hoeflich collided while trying to make the catch at the fence. The Redskins (3-6, 3-1 MBC) tacked on another run with two squeeze bunts, but Fredericktown (7-1, 4-0 MBC) rallied with three runs in the bottom of the inning to earn the win.
“I give Utica all kinds of credit; those kids battled and played extremely well,” said Fredericktown coach Matt Smith. “Our kids showed tremendous mental toughness. We were down 5-0 at one point, but didn’t give up. We got back to tie it at 5 on some wild stuff, and then had the huge play in center field. Both guys were laid out on the field. We just showed huge mental toughness. Our guys have a lot of character, a lot of heart. We’re real pleased with the win, but at the end of the day, it is just one win and we have to be ready to go tomorrow.”
“We did what we were supposed to,” said Utica coach Bren Henderson. “We played good ball and didn’t quit. It was a great game as usual between these two schools.
The Redskins jumped on top early, scoring five runs in the top of the third inning. Beaver and Chris Rodgers had the big hits off of Fredericktown starter Nate Chilcote in the inning — two-run singles. Fredericktown then got a run back in the bottom of the third after Hoeflich singled. He moved to second on a passed ball and then to third on a wild pitch by Utica starter Jeremy Jenkins. Tyler Hathaway then smacked an RBI groundout to plate the run.
Chilcote managed to keep Utica in check over the next few innings, and Fredericktown had tied the game by the bottom of the fifth. Leadoff singles by Hoeflich and Chilcote set the tone for a sacrifice by Hathaway. Then, during a strikeout by Jenkins, Hoeflich came home on a passed ball. C.J. Ruhl was intentionally walked to put two on again, bringing up Smith, who had singled and doubled in his previous two at-bats. He hit a hard shot to short, which Brett Robberts couldn’t field cleanly, allowing Chilcote to score. Ruhl, running hard on the play, got caught in a rundown, but after Utica catcher Drew Beaver committed and threw the ball back to third, Ruhl hustled home and beat the throw by Nate Wyscarver, which wasn’t fielded cleanly and bounced all the way to the fence. That allowed Smith to tie the game at 5.
“There is always something weird that happens, and today, it happened to both teams. It is a tough place to play,” Henderson said. “We scrapped big time and played pretty good. We had a few breaks that didn’t go our way. We’ll get better.”
From there, it was a matter of who would get a break first as both Jenkins and Chilcote remained sharp on the mound. Utica threatened in the bottom of the sixth after a pair of singles, but stranded both runners, and Fredericktown went down in order to set up the seventh inning.
After Derek Beaver led off with the shot to left-center field and the fielders collided, play was stopped while they were attended to. When play resumed, Chilcote struck out Jenkins looking for the first out. A diving Smith in center couldn’t come up with a hard smash by Wyscarver, and the Redskins were back in business. A single up the middle by Drew Beaver chased Chilcote from the mound, and Ruhl came in to take over. Rodgers squeezed in the second run with a fielder’s choice bunt that Wyscarver beat home A second squeeze bunt by Levi Boyd resulted in Beaver being thrown out at home after Ruhl fielded the ball cleanly. Ruhl then struck out Austin Brown to end the inning.
“Hindsight is 20-20,” said coach Smith of leaving Chilcote in after the home run. “I looked at coach (Tom) Craze, and said we probably left him in a little too long. The thing about Nate Chilcote is that he’s a battler. He’s a warrior; we knew he would and he certainly didn’t disappoint. He gave it everything he had. C.J. Ruhl came in and got us out of a tough spot, and that gave us a chance to win the game. All 11 guys had a part in this win tonight.”
Now with a chance to win the game, Fredericktown went to work. Jenkins caught Chilcote, who moved to second base, looking at strike three, but an error by Robberts left Hathaway on base. Jenkins then walked Justin Snyder on a full-count pitch, bringing Ruhl up. Ruhl hit the first pitch he saw into right-center for a double, scoring both runners to tie the game.
“I asked (Jenkins) what he wanted to do, and he wanted the ball,” said Henderson. “He knows himself, and is competitive. Ruhl was just a great hitter. (Jenkins) left a pitch out and Ruhl got it. We should have been able to survive that inning, but things happen.”
Smith was intentionally walked before Austin Hoeflich flew out for the second out of the inning. Fredericktown executed a double steal while Ty Fox was up to bat, and after two balls, Henderson chose to intentionally walk Fox and set up a play at any bag. It backfired, though, after Jordan Radel hit a hard ball to short, and Robberts once again couldn’t come up with it. That allowed Ruhl to score the winning run and end the game.
“You always expect a battle with a Utica team that is the three-time defending champion in the conference,” coach Smith said. “Those kids expect to win, and (Jenkins) pitched his heart out for them. I don’t want to say we were lucky, but we were definitely fortunate to win the game. We had some things go our way, and we made some of our own luck too. This is what I expected from two quality teams.”
Both teams are back in action today. Utica hosts Centerburg, while Fredericktown is at East Knox. The Freddies will need to be ready for a Bulldog squad that is also at the top of the league standings.
“Mentally, we’ll be ready just because the character of this team,” said coach Smith. “I won’t use that as an excuse. We’re going to have to take care of ourselves, and play with heart and guts like we did tonight. It is a quality East Knox team with some veteran kids. They had a good season last year, and are off to a good start this year. They are going to come after us; there is no doubt.”