CENTERBURG — When Joe Smith watched his Centerburg Trojans in their first practices before the season began, he hoped they would somehow be competitive in the improving Mid-Buckeye Conference.
No need to fear, coach. The Trojans can play with the best of ‘em.
Centerburg came back from three runs down in the seventh inning to force extra innings, only to fall to the Utica Redskins, 10-8, in an MBC showdown.
Centerburg trailed, 8-5, in the seventh when Dakota Mead and Jacob Sutton each singled, coming in when Ethan VanDyke doubled. VanDyke then stole third and scored on an errant throw.
“Our kids were excited. They were focused,” said Centerburg head coach Joe Smith. “They tried to find a way to win, and we battled. We’ve been in every game so far. We’ve had a lot of close ones.”
Utica won with two runs in the eighth when Brett Robberts doubled and scored on a throwing error on a Jenkins sacrifice bunt attempt. Jenkins later scored with the bases loaded on a Drew Beaver sacrifice fly.
With two outs and a runner on in the bottom of the eighth, Utica centerfielder Kyle Burwell made a diving catch on a bloop fly to end the game.
“Every year, we have a battle with Centerburg,” said Utica head coach Bren Henderson. “Joe always has them ready. They’re not going to quit.”
The battle between two top MBC teams actually became a struggle of two teams versus Mother Nature. A steady 25 mile-per-hour wind with 40-plus wind gusts meant both teams were battling to control their pitches and fighting to judge fly balls.
“Early on, we told (the outfield) to play deep, but that was probably a bad strategy,” said Henderson. “It’s 325 down the line with the wind blowing out. So we brought them in a little bit.”
“It was harder to get the ball down,” Smith admitted. “But it’s the same for both teams. You have to find a way to do it.”
With Utica’s Dakota Young and Centerburg’s Brock Cutlip struggling for control on the mound, and the wind blowing toward right field, the game became a haven for power hitters. Fly balls routinely flew over outfielders’ heads. Only Utica’s Jeremy Jenkins, however, was able to go yard.
Jenkins’ home run came in the top of the third inning, with Centerburg holding onto a 4-2 lead. With Brett Robberts on first, Jenkins took Cutlip’s pitch over the left field wall near the foul pole. Jenkins ended the day going 1-for-4 with two runs scored.
Utica took its first lead in the fifth inning when Danny Rife and Kyle Burwell each reached first when struck by pitches. They scored on RBI singles by Young and Beaver, respectively.
The Redskins added insurance runs in the sixth, when Sam Pritchard scored on a wild pitch, and in the seventh, when Young came in on a Pritchard groundball fielder’s choice.
Centerburg scored in the first when Sutton and VanDyke came in on a Justin Keys double. The Trojans tacked on two more when Brendan Mapes scored on a throwing error, and Logan McGovern scored on a Zac Holsopple sacrifice bunt.
“I thought we were in good shape,” said Smith. “We were relaxed. Utica’s been one of the top teams in the league, and we haven’t played well against them in the past few years. Once we got up on them, I thought we would be okay.”
Young went the distance for the Redskins, earning the win despite allowing eight runs (seven earned) on 12 hits. He struck out eight batters.
“(Young) is one of the best pitchers in the district, by far,” said Henderson. “But, with this kind of wind, it’s tough to pitch. He’s probably losing 5 or 6 miles-per-hour off his fastball. But he was still battling out there.”
Cutlip allowed six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings before giving way to Sutton, who finished the game and took the loss.
Centerburg begins the second half of its MBC season at Fredericktown today, while Utica travels to Johnstown.