BYNG — Ada’s surprising 6-4 loss to Prague Thursday in Byng’s Hill-Prescott Memorial Tournament wasn’t a game of inches. In the end, though, it came down to a matter of just a few feet.
The Cougars, who have made late-inning comebacks a way of life this spring, had the perfect scenario for another miracle finish in a game they never led. Ada scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to cut a 6-2 Prague lead in half and had the team’s top power threat — red-hot clean-up hitter Chase Sanders — at the plate with runners at first at third.
Sanders, who has hit six homers in the past two weeks, ran the count to 2-2, then he tagged a fastball from Prague’s Creston Moon to left-center for what appeared, for a moment at least, to be his second walkoff home run in a week. But center fielder D. J. Warden caught the ball just a step or two in front of the fence to cap a solid pitching effort from Moon and finally wrap up the Red Devils’ unlikely victory, which spoiled an expected Ada-Byng match-up in tonight’s second semifinal (at 7:30 p.m.).
With the loss, Ada dropped into a tough loser’s bracket contest at noon today against Class 2A No. 9 Coalgate, which dropped an 8-3 decision to Byng in Thursday’s opener.
“We played a good game, but their kid did a great job on the mound,” Ada coach Ronny Johns said after seeing his club — ranked No. 9 in Class 4A — fall to 16-11 on the season. “Our kids never quit. They knew we had a chance, and they did a good job of battling back.”
Moon, a left-hander who was one of only two seniors in the Prague line-up, surrendered a first-inning run on two hits but allowed just two more baserunners before the Cougars got two hits in each of the last two innings to stage two-out rallies.
Sanders, who went the distance and took the loss on the mound, lined a single to left with two outs in the sixth, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Ty Gower’s bloop single to shallow left to make it 5-2, then, after the Red Devils tacked on a run but missed a chance for more in the top of the seventh, the Cougar offense went back to work in the bottom of the inning.
Chad Palmer led off with a double into the left field corner, but he was still standing at second with two outs. Moon walked Ada leadoff hitter Josh Balch on a 3-2 pitch, however, and, after Balch stole second, Philip Tweedy beat out an infield hit to plate Palmer with the first run of the inning. Clint Bowker followed with a hard-hit grounder to third that Brandon Adams booted, allowing Balch to score, but the rally died with Sanders’ game-ending drive left-center.
Prague grabbed a 2-0 first-inning lead on a leadoff walk to Caleb Dan (one of only two issued by Sanders in the game) and a two-out homer to left by Warden, and Ada answered with a run in the bottom of the inning on a leadoff single by Balch, a Tweedy sacrifice and Bowker’s double to right-center. But Moon struck out Sanders and Gower to end the threat, and he and Sanders dominated until fifth, when the Red Devils scored three times in what became a nightmare inning for the Cougars.
Dan grounded out leading off the fifth, but Moon singled, Adams doubled and Warden was walked intentionally to load the bases. Atley Simpson followed with a slow roller to short and beat it out for an infield single without drawing a throw as Moon raced home to make it 3-1.
Noel Franco followed Simpson’s hit with a bloop single that dropped near the line in shallow right field to drive home Adams, then Dakota Harris grounded to Palmer, who threw low and wide of home for the Cougars’ only error of the game, allowing Warden to score the third run of the inning.
Sanders, who hadn’t allowed a baserunner in the four previous innings, avoided further trouble by striking out Chase Krauter for the third time in the game and retiring Chris Lindsay on a grounder to short, and, although he allowed another run in the seventh, Sanders again pitched out of a huge jam.
Prague (12-14) got an infield single from Dan and a single to left by Moon to start the inning and scored a run when Sanders hit Adams and Warden with back-to-back pitches. But Moon was retired at the plate on Simpson’s fielder’s choice grounder to Bowker at second, and Gower turned in the defensive play of the game when he caught Franco’s fly ball in shallow right field and easily threw out Adams at home to complete an inning-ending double play.
Sanders, who dominated the middle innings before surrendering five hits and four runs in Prague’s final two at-bats, struck out eight in the loss and probably deserved a better fate.
“Chase threw a good game,” Johns said. “(Prague) just chipped away and got big hits. I like our pitching staff right now. We’ve got four guys (Sanders, Gower, Palmer and Willy Gould) who can go out and win for us.”