COVINGTON — For six innings, the Bethel baseball team seemed in control against Covington Thursday in TRC action.
But, Covington made the most of small ball in the seventh inning and came away with a 3-2 victory.
The Buccs improved to 4-7 overall and 4-4 in the TRC, while Bethel drops to 5-6 overall and 3-3 in the TRC.
“The kids kept battling the whole game,” Covington baseball coach Andy Johnson said. “And we wouldn’t have been in the game if they didn’t.”
For Bethel coach Chase Goulette it was a tough ending.
“We won the first six innings,” he said. “We just didn’t win the seventh inning. Luke (Gray) pitched a great game tonight. It just wasn’t our night in the seventh.”
After Covington tied the game on a throwing error on a bunt, Tyler Jay stood on third base and Michael Hagen was on first with no outs.
Carter Owens and Tyler Jay started the inning with singles.
Then, Michael Hagan put down a bunt.
The throw went to third, but sailed down the left field line.
When the play concluded, Owens had scored to tie the game, Jay was on third and Hagen was on first.
“I just wanted to get the bunt down and try to get on base,” Hagan said.
Johnson was nervous because in the exact same situation in the fifth inning, Bethel had thrown to third and got the forceout when the Covington runner didn’t slide.
“That was what flashed through my mind,” Johnson said. “So I was telling at the runner to get down.”
Johnson didn’t hesitate to call a suicide squeeze.
Jay was just steps from the plate when Jacob Tipps put the bunt down and scored easily to end the game.
“I was going to do it if we had the right people in the right situation,” Johnson said. “And that’s what we had.”
Tipps wasn’t nervous.
“I was just feeling really confident,” he said. “There is some pressure when you see the runner coming down the line. I knew I had to get the bunt down. I think this does helps us to win a game like this, especially because Bethel had run-ruled us the first time we played.”
It has been a pitching duel between Jay — a freshman — and Gray.
Bethel had taken a 2-0 lead in the second.
Noah McCann had singled with two out.
After he stole second, he scored when Gray singled off the second base bag.
Gray took second on the throw home and scored on a dropped fly ball.
It looked like Bethel would add to the lead in the fifth.
Gray had doubled with two out and Elijah Schroeder hit a shot that looked like a double down the first base line.
But, Covington first baseman Jensen Wagoner turned in a web gem with an amazing diving stop and got the out at first to end the inning.
“Everyone knows Jensen Wagoner is a gold glove first baseman,” Johnson said.
Bethel’s defense got them out of a jam in the Covington fifth.
With first and second and one out, Gray fielded the bunt and cut the lead runner down at third base.
Then, McCann picked a runner off first on the next pitch to end the inning.
Covington got on the board in the sixth.
Wagoner was on third with two outs and Trey Schmelzer hit a shot to third base.
The throw to first was low and Wagoner was able to beat the throw to the plate to make it 2-1.
“That is just baseball instinct,” Johnson said.
Bethel had a runner on third with one out in the seventh, but Jake Dilley fielded a hard shot at third and threw the runner out at the plate, setting up Covington’s dramatic victory.
Gray pitched the first six innings, allowing three hits and striking out seven, before Christian Barker pitched the seventh.
Gray also helped himself at the plate, going 3-for-4.
Jay pitched a seven-hitter, striking out four.
“Tyler (Jay) was phenomenal,” Johnson said. “To pitch the whole game and not walk a batter, that just shows you how talented he is. And we were able to get some timely hits tonight.”
And two big bunts for a walk-off win.