By Josh Brown
TROY —A wind-aided home run marring a stellar pitching performance.
Runners in scoring position with less than one out in three different innings — including the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh and runners on second and third in the bottom of the eighth.
A misplayed ball in center field in the top of the ninth.
And lots of lighting.
Troy and Butler both had plenty of things go their way or the other Tuesday in a critical showdown between the two teams currently tied for the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division lead. But in the end, an RBI triple in the top of the ninth by Alex Murphy on a ball misplayed by Troy’s center fielder broke up the tie score, giving Butler a 2-1 lead Tuesday at Market Street Field.
But then again, that wasn’t really “in the end,” as the umpires signaled a lightning delay immediately after Murphy’s hit, suspending the game in the top of the ninth and leaving both teams to come back and finish it at a later date. That date is likely Thursday, but details were still being made official late Tuesday night.
Troy remains 9-6, 5-1 in the GWOC North and still needs a victory today on the road at Butler to ensure that it still controls its destiny in its quest for a share of the league title. The Trojans still have a two-game series at Trotwood, which is winless in division play, while Butler (12-6, 5-1) faces a little stiffer competition against 3-4 Sidney next week. Should the Trojans win out, they still would clinch a share of the division crown.
Of course, they still have one more chance to turn around Tuesday’s game, too, despite all the chances they had to end it before the weather turned.
Troy jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning as Trenton Wood drew a leadoff walk and was promptly doubled home by Kevin McGraw. McGraw then took third on a groundout, but Butler’s Jacob Larger induced a pair of flyouts to end the inning without an further damage.
And for a while, that looked like all Troy starter Zach Kendall would need. Kendall cruised through the first three innings, allowing only one single by Murphy — who was promptly thrown out trying to steal by Troy catcher Nick Sanders — and another batter to reach on a strikeout on a ball in the dirt.
But with one out in the fourth inning, Chandler Craine hit a line drive to left that carried over the fence, and the score was tied 1-1.
“He probably only has one pitch he’d like to have back, that home run. Other than that, Zach did an outstanding job,” Troy coach Ty Welker said. “Butler didn’t pose a threat in any inning really. Zach located well and battled.”
Troy, meanwhile, had a number of chances to either extend or retake the lead. Still up 1-0 in the bottom of the third, Zach Thompson led off with a single and was bunted into scoring position by Ryan Lavy — something the Trojans executed to perfection three times in the game. And Greg Johnson followed with a single up the middle, putting runners on first and third with only one out. But Larger got a harmless pop to short and then a flyout to right to get out of the jam.
That’s the way the score remained until the bottom of the seventh. A leadoff single by Kevin McGraw and a sac bunt by Alex Magoteaux put the winning run in scoring position, but Larger got a strikeout to take some of the pressure off. After going 3-0 to Dalton Cascaden, the Aviators issued an intentional walk, then Thompson drew a walk to load the bases — but a lineout to left field ended that threat and sent the game to extras.
And in the bottom of the eighth, Johnson singled to lead off and was bunted to second by Sanders, and he then took third on a flyout to right. Larger intentionally walked McGraw and got a flyout to center to once again escape unharmed.
“I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities,” Welker said. “When you get guys into scoring position with less than two outs, you’re supposed to be able to get them in. We had a number of guys that had chances to win the game in those last two innings — and we hit it hard, too. Just right at people.
“We did what we were supposed to do to put ourselves in a position to win the game.”
In the top of the ninth, Damon Dues drew a leadoff walk for Butler, was bunted to second and took third on a groundout. Murphy hit one in the air to center, though, and Troy’s center fielder realized too late just how much the wind would carry it, and it went over his head for an RBI triple to make the score 2-1 Butler.
At the time the game was stopped, Kendall had eight strikeouts amd had given up two walks and three hits in 8 2-3 innings.
“Zach was at about 103 pitches going into the ninth, so it was going to be his last inning,” Welker said. “Still, he was in there battling with two outs. A guy just hit a curve and got it up into the jet stream. The center fielder would like to have that one back, too.”
Once the run came in, the umpires stopped the game due to lightning, and then the rain made sure that it wouldn’t be finished that night. Should the score in the suspended game hold, Troy would still be in line to win a share of the title with a victory today at Butler — but they’d like to get both just to be sure.
“The guys are not happy with the delay, but they’re not giving up either,” Welker said.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.