Pitchers regularly shake off catchers, but it's not every day a coach shakes off his pitcher.
Yet, that's what happened in the tension-filled bottom of the seventh inning of the Hampshire baseball team's 5-4 victory at rival Burlington Central on Monday.
Hampshire relief pitcher Brandon Bowen was tasked with protecting a 1-run lead when he entered in relief of starter Dillon Kuhn in the seventh inning, but he made his own trouble with one out by beaning Central speedster Reed Hunnicutt with a pitch and subsequently walking Bryan Cynova and Cody Schuver to load the bases.
His confidence waning, the right-hander wanted Hampshire coach John Sarna to give him the hook.
"I looked to the dugout thinking, 'I don't got this,' " Bowen said. "I shook my head and was like, 'Coach, you've got to come get me.' And he didn't listen. I just built a little confidence and tried throwing strikes."
Bowen went back to work and notched a crucial strikeout on a 3-2 breaking ball for the second out. He then induced a high flyball to left fielder Nick Mohlman to complete a Mitch Williams-like save.
"He was able to get out of it. Good for him," Sarna said. "He's the right guy in that situation. He just makes it interesting."
Coach Kyle Nelson of Burlington Central (11-5) didn't lament the lack of a clutch hit in the seventh. Instead, he pointed to earlier defensive lapses that put his team behind in the first place. The Rockets committed 3 errors, including one at shortstop in the top of the sixth that opened the door for a 5- run outburst by Hampshire (7-11). The Rockets were also burned in the inning by Hampshire's double-steal of home plate, helped by another error, and they were unable to field a bases-loaded squeeze bunt.
"Some days we play really good defense and some days we don't," Nelson said. "This was one of the days we don't and it got us. We weren't able to outhit our defensive mistakes at the end there."
Hampshire's 5-run sixth came from nowhere considering Central starting pitcher Jacob Schutta had allowed just 4 hits in his first 5 innings. But Central's infield error, Trey Shramm's walk and Bowen's single loaded the bases for Kuhn. He got the squeeze bunt down on his second try to halve the lead.
Mohlman followed with the big blow: a line-drive double rocketed into the teeth of the wind over the head of Central's left fielder. Schramm and Bowen scored to stake Hampshire to a 3-2 lead.
"Our coach was preaching all day to take the ball to the right side, but I had two strikes and got an inside pitch," Mohlman said. "There wasn't much else I could do with it."
Pinch hitter Tyler Schutt followed with another clutch hit, an opposite-field single to right that drove in the fourth run. Hampshire added another marker when Mohlman scored on the double steal, aided by a Central error.
The Rockets fought back within a run in the bottom of the sixth on RBI groundouts by Schutta and pinch hitter Brendan Bushy, but Kuhn stranded the tying run at third base with a groundball to first baseman Michael Merchut.
Kuhn earned the win by holding Central to 4 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks. He struck out four. Schutta (5⅓ IP, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 2 K) took the loss for Central.
"It was a big win for us," Sarna said. "It gives us some confidence. Regional seedings are going to be coming up. Hopefully, this gives us a solid chance of getting a good seed in that regional because we are a good team. We play a tough, tough schedule, and our record doesn't show it. We needed this win."
St. Edward 5, Guerin 2: Trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning of this Suburban Christian Gold road game, St. Edward loaded the bases and scored the tying run on a walk by Jake LaFrenz. Senior Tighe Koehring followed with a go-ahead, 3-run triple. Koehring finished 3-for-4 and also doubled. Michael Castoro went 2-for-3, and winning pitcher Jack Tierney struck out 8 while holding the Gators to 2 earned runs on 3 hits and 2 walks for St. Edward (6-12-1, 3-7).