By Josh Brown
TROY — Tippecanoe baseball coach Bruce Cahill almost second-guessed himself out of the move that swung the momentum in his Red Devils’ favor.
“The funny thing is we were going to put him in in that spot in the batting order, but (assistant) coach (Jim) Johnson said ‘he hasn’t even warmed up enough yet!’” Cahill said of putting Kenten Egbert in to pinch hit to lead off the top of the fifth before entering as a relief pitcher in the bottom of the inning. “He’d already thrown a little, but he hadn’t thrown enough. I’m just glad he didn’t talk me out of it.”
Egbert led off the top of the fifth with a game-tying pinch hit home run then worked three stellar innings of relief to shut the Troy Trojans down the rest of the way, and the Red Devils were able to use that momentum to cobble together a four-run top of the seventh to claim a 5-1 victory on a misty, rainy Tuesday at Market Street Field and strike first in a two-game series that will go a long way in deciding the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division championship.
Troy (9-5, 8-1 GWOC American North) had taken the lead in the bottom of the third on a two-out RBI infield single by Jacob Adams. But Tippecanoe (16-1, 9-0 GWOC American North) — which had left runners stranded in scoring position in three of the first four innings — got a big jolt when Egbert stepped in and drove a 2-1 pitch over the fence in left-center to even the score at 1-1.
“How well did that work out? He needed to go warm up, so he hits a home run and has plenty of time to go warm up,” Cahill said.
Egbert then stepped in and limited the Trojans to only a sixth-inning double by Adams in three innings to get the win on the mound, striking out three and walking none in relief of starter Zach Losey, who, along with Troy starter Derek McDonagh and reliever Ethan West, struggled to keep the ball in the strike zone in the wet conditions, with those three pitchers combining to walk a total of 12 and hit two in the game.
“That’s what you hate. You sit there and go ‘will it be us or them?’” Cahill said of the conditions. “Losey struggled a bit, walked some guys and threw three wild pitches, and he normally doesn’t do that. The weather forces you to play in these games, because you don’t want to get backed up, and we already lost yesterday (Monday’s series opener was postponed to Wednesday due to the rain). It’s just unfortunate that you’ve got to play in these conditions.”
Troy coach Ty Welker wasn’t about to let the conditions be an excuse, though.
“That’s no excuse. They had the same balls we did,” he said of all the free passes. “It’s mentally draining (for the pitchers). And that’s two guys (Losey and McDonagh) that don’t walk guys. But whatever the conditions are, you have to be the toughest one. That’s something we can control. But I wasn’t disappointed in that.
“McDonagh threw a heck of a game. He got up in pitch count after six, and he threw one pitch he’d like to have back. But (Egbert) hit a nice ball. Derek did his job today, and we’re supposed to score runs for him.”
McDonagh gave up five hits and seven walks in six innings of work, yet he only gave up the one run on the homer as the Trojan defense was solid behind him and helped him get out of jams in each inning. He struck out four and left nine Tippecanoe runners stranded — as well as picking off one, having catcher Keiran Williams catch another trying to steal and having one erased in a rundown between second and third to keep it a 1-1 game.
“That’s the kind of team we are. We’re scrappy,” Welker said. “I felt confident all the way. We left a couple guys on in scoring position early in the game, though, and we just needed somebody to get a hit.”
In the end, though, nobody got a game-breaking hit, but Tippecanoe made plays in the top of the seventh to take control.
Cole Barhorst led off by ripping an infield single off reliever West’s glove, then West struck out the next batter for the first out. A hit batter and a walk loaded the bases, though, and Mason McClurg hit an RBI sac fly to left to put the Devils on top. Another hit batter reloaded the bases and Seth Clayton drew an RBI walk, then an error off the bat of Egbert allowed two more runs to score and make it a 5-1 game.
“We have to be the mentally tough team,” Welker said. “We know they’re tough, they’re battle-worn. We came out here and expected them to roll over — but we didn’t roll over, either. We played a heck of a game for six innings. It was a battle.”
Troy’s Adams was the only player with multiple hits in the game, going 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI as the Trojans left five runners combined on in the first three innings — four in scoring position — and six total in the game.
Egbert was 1 for 2 with a homer and an RBI and Mason McClurg was 0 for 1 with two sacrifices and an RBI for the Devils.
The two teams will meet again Wednesday at Tippecanoe with Troy needing a win to even up the division standings and Tippecanoe looking to take a seemingly-insurmountable two-game lead. The Trojans and Devils split the season series last year in Tippecanoe’s first season as a member of the GWOC American North, and as of Tuesday’s game the series has been split 6-6 since the 2006 season.
“This series has been split the last few years, so we’ve got to come back and go at it again tomorrow,” Cahill said. “We made more mistakes today than I care for. They gave us a lot of walks and hit batters, but we made some baserunning mistakes. We couldn’t get a bunt down a couple times — just a lot of things we didn’t do well. We’re just glad to get out of here with a win today.”
“That’s the good thing about baseball — we get to come back out here tomorrow,” Welker said. “We’re going to show up, I’m sure they’re going to show up, and it’s going to be another battle.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.