By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — For Miami East baseball coach Dean Denlinger, facing Cross County Conference rival Covington is always the strangest day of the season.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for that team and program over there,” said Denlinger, the long-time Covington softball coach who took over the Viking baseball team last season. “I think it would’ve been harder if I coached the girls … but I am enjoying it over here. These two schools are very similar.”
Friday, his Vikings made the day a lot easier to handle.
Miami East’s Austin Rutledge hit a bases-clearing three-run double in the second inning, pitched five innings of one-hit shutout ball and had the walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the fifth inning to complete the 10-0 run-rule victory Friday at home in Cross County Conference play.
It was the second straight one-hit shutout for the Vikings (5-2, 3-1 CCC), with Jacob Arthur and Tyler Kirby combining on one in an 8-0 victory over Bethel on Thursday. And Friday, Rutledge overcame some early struggles to do the same in the five-inning game, striking out eight while walking three and giving up one fourth-inning single by Covington’s Mason Dilley.
“Our defense has been outstanding,” Rutledge said. “Jacob Brown had a great diving catch out in left field today, Tyler Kirby’s made some good plays at short. Our pitching’s been great, too, but our defense has just been outstanding.
“It’s always nice to beat Bethel and Covington, since we’re big league rivals. It feels pretty good.”
For the young Buccaneers (1-6, 1-2 CCC), starter Braden Miller worked out of some early trouble, as well. After walking two batters and hitting one to load the bases with one out, Miller induced a sharp grounder back to himself, throwing to Dilley at home to kick off a 1-2-3 double play to end the threat and keep the game scoreless after one.
“We dodged a big bullet there,getting out of that inning with a double play,” first-year Covington coach Andy Johnson said. “It could have been worse. We are young. With 10 of 19 guys on the roster being freshmen, yeah. We’ve had a tendency to make errors in key moments, and they’ve really come back to bite us in a lot of games this year.”
Friday was no different.
An error and another hit batter put two Viking runners on in the bottom of the second inning, then an error on an attempted steal of third allowed Garrett Lemaster to score the game’s first run. Another hit batter and a walk loaded the bases with two outs for Rutledge, who — in his second at-bat of the day — promptly drove a double to the gap in right-center to bring home all three runners and give the Vikings a 4-0 lead.
“The first time up thinking I was going to get the hit I got the second time and just swung too hard,” Rutledge said. “The second time, I waited a little bit on it and did my job that time.”
“Give Austin credit — we threw a changeup at him, and he went down and got it,” Johnson said. “He made a good play. It was a good pitch on our part, but he made a good play and made us pay for it.”
The Vikings plated three more runs before the second inning ended, too. Rutledge scored on a wild pitch, then Brandon Wilson walked, Andy Wargo singled and Kirby beat out a bunt single to reload the bases once more, and Lemaster finished the rally he begun by blooping a two-run single into right field to make the score 7-0 and close the book on Covington’s starter.
Trentin Alexander came on in relief and closed out the second inning, and Miami East added one more run in the third inning as Brown walked, stole second and scored on an RBI single by Arthur. But Alexander pitched a one-two-three fourth, keeping the score 8-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning.
“I was really happy with how we finished the game,” Johnson said. “Trentin Alexander came in and threw strikes. He’s one of the freshmen we’ll be counting on in the future of the program. He came on in a tough situation and really fought hard. I was happy with how he pitched.”
But the Vikings made the Buccs pay for a pair of one-out walks in the bottom of the fifth. With runners on the corners, the Vikings kept a rundown going long enough for Covington to make an error, allowing Arthur to score to make it 9-0. Alex Hayes then stole second base and scored on an RBI single by Rutledge to put an end to the game.
All told, the Vikings scored 10 runs on only seven hits, taking advantage of eight walks, four hit-batters and three errors. Rutledge led the way, going 2 for 2 with a double and four RBIs, the only Viking with multiple hits, as Lemaster finished with two RBIs and Arthur drove in one.
“We didn’t hit the ball the way we’re capable of, but we also had 12 free runners,” Denlinger said. “They walked eight and hit four. Those are almost like hits sometimes. We struggle against slow pitching, have a hard time staying back. We’ve got to adjust — we can do better there.”
Both teams are back in action Saturday, weather permitting: Miami East hosts Madison, while Covington faces New Bremen.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.