By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — Justyn Eichbaum gave Tippecanoe some insurance.
Aaron Hughes made sure the Red Devils didn’t need any.
In a game where runs came at a premium, Eichbaum hit a two-out, two-run blast to left-center in the fifth inning that gave Tippecanoe a four-run lead. And Hughes made it all stand up, not allowing any Cougars to advance past second base in finishing a complete game two-hit shutout as the Devils (4-4, 2-1 Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division) returned to action Tuesday with a 4-0 victory over Kenton Ridge at home.
It was the Devils’ first action since April 6, as rainouts from last Thursday to Monday kept everyone off the diamond. It was also only the second home game of the season so far for Tippecanoe after a week-long trip to Florida two weeks ago.
“It’s great, and today was supposed to be the worst day of the week, too, at about 50 degrees or so,” Tippecanoe coach Bruce Cahill said.
“It’s good to be back at home, playing in front of friends and family,” Hughes said. “It’s just a great atmosphere. But it’s tough to come out and play as well as we did today after that time off.”
Hughes didn’t let it get to him, though, dominating the Kenton Ridge (3-3, 2-1 CBC Kenton Trail) lineup all day. The Cougars only had two official at-bats with runners in scoring position all day and a total of five baserunners, with Luke Holt (2 for 3) getting the team’s only two hits, one of them a fourth-inning double — where he was promptly picked off second base.
“He can be dominant,” Cahill said of Hughes. “This is what we didn’t get to see last week (in a loss to Springfield Shawnee) when we booted the ball all over the place behind him. But that was a weird day, not an indicative game. We’re going to make the plays most of the time, like we did today.
“Aaron’s not going to throw 85 (miles per hour), but his fastball is definitely good enough when you mix it with his curveball, his knuckler, his changeup. And he just competes like crazy.”
Kaleb Meeks was dealing for the Cougars, too, and his defense helped him get out of a jam in the second inning. After a one-out double by Trevor Staggs, the shortstop committed an error on a ball hit by Brandon Gotthardt. Staggs never hesitated and tried to score, but the ball didn’t bounce far enough away from the shortstop and he recovered to throw Staggs out at the plate.
Tippecanoe kept the pressure on, though, scraping together a pair of runs in the bottom of the third. Cole Barhorst led off with a single, then an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Andrew Kraska put runners on second and third with no outs. Jacob Ambos immediately singled up the middle to bring home the game’s first run, then after the Cougars record one out Bradley Calhoun hit an RBI groundout to make it a 2-0 game.
It stayed that way through five innings, and Cahill and company were still slightly nervous.
“At that point, all it takes is a walk, an error, a single and this could be a 2-2 game again,” Cahill said.
Eichbaum took the edge off, though. After Ambos singled to lead off the inning but Meeks got a flyout and strikeout and looked ready to get out of the fifth, Eichbaum hammered a 1-0 pitch just left of dead center for a two-run homer, giving the Devils a 4-0 cushion.
“My first two at-bats, I was out in front of it, hit a couple of grounders to the five-and-a-half hole,” Eichbaum said. “His first pitch was a curve, so I figured I’d sit back on it and try to drop it the other way. I got hold of it, and out of the box I was thinking double.”
“You don’t see many home runs hit to the right of the scoreboard here,” Cahill said. “He hit that one really well. I knew it’d be at least one run, since it was over the center fielder’s head. That home run was big. It made everyone relax a bit.”
“That was really nice,” Hughes said. “It gave us a couple of insurance runs and got rid of the pressure.”
It was also Eichbaum’s first action since that Florida trip — making it an especially nice return to the field for him.
“I’m coming off of an ACL injury, and I had a scare in Florida,” Eichbaum said. “Came back here, and the doctors said when I felt good enough, I could come back. This was my first game since we’ve been back in Ohio. I was glad to get to see a good pitcher, today. Hopefully it will help me get back in the groove a bit.”
“It’s been since the middle of the Florida trip since he’s played,” Cahill said. “And that’s his second home run of the year already, too.”
Hughes did the rest, retiring seven batters in a row after a two-out error in the fourth, taking that four-run lead into the seventh on 80 pitches at that point.
“I definitely wanted to finish it,” Hughes said. “I was hitting my spots and I had my breaking pitches working, so I told coach to leave me in.”
Three of the four batters he faced in the seventh worked the count full, with one drawing a one-out walk. But Hughes struck out the side in the inning to finish the game with eight strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Ambos was the only Devil with multiple hits on the day, going 2 for 3 with two stolen bases, an RBI and a run.
Tippecanoe has a makeup game today at Indian Lake, hosts Ben Logan Thursday and travels to Kenton Ridge Friday to finish off the season series and make up Monday’s rainout.
“We had two games against Springfield Shawnee, two against Kenton Ridge, and also games against Ben Logan and Indian Lake, the two top teams on the other side of the CBC,” Cahill said. “If we can get through this week in good shape, it’ll be our own fault if we can’t finish this year.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.