By Josh Brown
PIQUA — Twice this season, Piqua Post 184 was close. And twice this season, Troy Post 43 came through in the clutch and was strong enough to hold on.
Monday night, Piqua finally got the breakthrough it’d been aiming for.
Post 184 took advantage of its chances, scoring five in the top of the third to take control and then answering when Post 43 began to close the gap. Troy, meanwhile, simply couldn’t get the big hit, leaving 14 runners stranded on base — including the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the ninth — in an 11-4 loss to Piqua Monday at Hardman Field that set up a winner-takes-all showdown Tuesday for the regional championship.
“We did. We got runners on, we moved them around, and — this time — we drove them in,” Piqua Post 184 coach Jeff Jennings said. “We took advantage of our chances this time.
“We’ve been playing sudden death baseball since the other night at Greenville. Every game is our last chance. We’re glad to be playing one more day. They’d been waiting for four days, and I don’t think they were quite ready for what we brought at them.”
Post 43 defeated Sidney on Thursday to advance to the title game, while Post 184 had to wait until Sunday to play its loser’s bracket final thanks to the rain over the weekend. That left Troy sitting around for four days waiting for an opponent — and that showed up in some uncharacteristic mistakes.
“It wasn’t (a characteristic performance),” Troy Post 43 coach Frosty Brown said. “Sometimes in this business, you can want something to bad for your kids. If I could buy it, if I could do it myself, I would do it for them. We just hit a lot of shots that Piqua made some great plays on in key situations.”
Troy took a 1-0 lead on a two-out RBI single by Cody Harsman in the bottom of the first, and starter Trenton Wood cruised through the first two innings and looked dominant on the mound, striking out three of the first six batters he faced and getting a double play turned behind him.
But in the top of the third, Piqua broke through.
Brayden Dohme drew a one-out walk and Arron Boerger singled up the middle, then Noah Gertner hit a single to left that that left fielder misplayed and let roll behind him, allowing Post 184 to tie the score on the error. Boerger scored on a wild pitch to give Piqua the lead, and after a walk to Travis Smith, Andrew Lundvall planted a two-run triple to the gap in left-center and scored on another wild pitch to make it a 5-1 game.
Troy answered back in the bottom of the inning, cashing in back-to-back walks to Brandon Nesbitt and Michael Hale to start the inning on a two-run single by Harsman to make it 5-3, but a pair of popouts and a strikeout left runners stranded on first and second.
Post 43 finally chased Piqua starter Smith — who gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings, striking out three and giving up seven hits and six walks — in the bottom of the sixth after a one-out RBI single by Greg Peffley made it 5-4. With Peffley on third, though, reliever Boerger got a popout and a fielder’s choice to get out of the jam and preserve the lead.
“I passed up a big moment in the bottom of the sixth,” Brown said. “With the game 5-4, I should’ve put down a delayed squeeze bunt. We failed to tie the score there, and then they came back and got us the next inning. That one was on me.”
Boerger led off the Piqua half of the seventh with a triple to chase Wood — who struck out eight, walked only two and gave up eight hits in six innings — then Ryan Lavy came in but couldn’t stem the tide. Gertner beat out an RBI infield single, Smith drew a walk and both runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. Lundvall hit a sac fly, then an errant throw on a delayed double steal attempt gave Piqua an 8-4 lead before Lavy struck out the final two hitters to end the inning.
Lavy finished with six strikeouts, three walks, three hits and five runs in three innings of work.
Boerger, meanwhile, sat Troy down one-two-three in the seventh and got out of a second-and-third jam in the eighth thanks to a stellar catch on a blooper by second baseman Austin Arnold and a tough catch at the fence by right fielder Jesse Wilson. All told, Troy had 16 pop or flyouts in the game.
“We’re pretty good hitters, but sometimes we’ve got to stay off the high pitches,” Brown said. “We’re not home run hitters, we’re line drive hitters. We get wrapped up going for the fences sometimes, and that can’t be us.”
Boerger went 3 2/3 innings, striking out three, walking one and giving up one hit but not allowing any runs, leaving seven Troy runners stranded.
“The game got tight, we brought Boerger in and he did a heck of a job,” Jennings said. “He may not blaze it, but he’s tough to hit.”
A two-run single by Austin Arnold in the top of the ninth and another run scoring on an error — this time on an errant throw on a sacrifice fly attempt when the runner wasn’t even breaking for home on the catch — gave Piqua an 11-4 lead, which seemed like plenty of cushion for Boerger. Troy loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but a strikeout and a groundout to first put an end to the game — and set up Tuesday’s championship game.
“When they started to threaten, we answered,” Jennings said. “We folded under their pressure the first two times. There was no folding today.”
“These guys have not let each other down all year,” Brown said. “They’re good teammates, and I know we’ll regroup and bounce back Tuesday night. I have faith in them. We’ll come back and do a better job Tuesday.”
(Editor’s note: Tuesday’s championship game was not complete at time of press. Look for full coverage of that game in Thursday’s issue.)
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.