By Bryant Billing
SIDNEY — A pitcher’s duel in an American Legion regional tournament game on Sunday at Custenborder Field came down to two late mistakes — both of which were costly for Troy Post 43.
Sidney Post 217 leadoff hitter Austin McClain beat a throw to first to start a two-run inning in the fifth and Darren Hoying took advantage of a throwing error in the sixth to add a run. Post 43 couldn’t overcome the fielding mistakes at the plate in late innings and lost 3-0 in a Region 2 tournament game.
With the loss, Troy Post 43 drops to the consolation bracket and will face Greenville Post 140 at 5 p.m. on Monday at Custenborder Field. Sidney advances to face Van Wert Post 178 in a game in the winner’s bracket at 7:30 p.m. on Monday. Troy got to the game with Sidney with a first-round, 14-3 win over rival Piqua Post 184 Saturday.
Troy needs to win four consecutive games to win the double-elimination tournament and earn a state berth.
“We’ll find out what we’re made of,” Troy Post 43 coach Frosty Brown said. “We’ve had our back to the wall all year, and we haven’t (fought back) a lot.”
McClain beat a bunt single off Troy pitcher Jacob Duncan to put runners on second and first in the fifth. After Dion Puthoff hit into a fielder’s choice and Hunter Cohee grounded out, Kyle Noble hit a one-run single to left field to put Post 217 up 1-0.
Jack Heitbrink followed with a single that fell in front of Post 43 center fielder Noah Brown, who dove to try and make a catch. The single allowed McClain to score from third.
It was a pitcher duel’s before Sidney’s big inning in the bottom of the fifth. Post 217 starter Cole Niekamp and Troy Post 43 starter Troy Powers allowed two hits apiece in the first 5 1/2. Powers was removed after walking Dapore to start the fifth, and Duncan allowed four hits over the last two innings.
“We could have been out of the (fifth) inning if we’d thrown the guy out on the bunt,” Brown said. “If you don’t make plays and give away extra outs, that can hurt. That’s the way baseball is. That was really the whole case for us today.”
Hoying hit a one-out double in the sixth that bounced off the left-field fence after one hop. He then stole third and scored after a throwing error by Troy.
Niekamp retired Post 43 in order in the seventh to finish a complete game. He allowed two hits in seven innings and struck out two with three walks and one hit batter.
“He hadn’t thrown for us in a minute,” Sidney Post 217 coach Daulton Mosbarger said. “He kind of came out and got his feet wet a little bit. He struggled through those first few innings but he shut it down when he needed to. The last part of the game there, he was really locked in and making quality pitches for us.”
Troy’s best chance to score came in the second inning.
Brandon Wilson led off the second with a double to left field, and after Duncan flied out, Austin Kendall drew a walk. Jacob Arthur then struck out, but Wilson and Duncan advanced to third and second on a balk. Perry Casto grounded out to end the inning.
“That’s been our problem all year — we don’t capitalize when guys are in scoring position,” Brown said. “We don’t hit the ball hard. We strike out or we pop up. That’s been a battle all year that we’ve been trying to fight, get somebody to step up and hit it hard. That’s the difference between really good teams and ones that are just average. Sometimes we play just average, like we did today.”
Wilson hit a single on a grounder to center field to lead off Troy in the fourth and later stole second, but the next three batters went down in order. Post 43 had one base runner the last three innings.
Post 43 avoided giving up potential runs twice early.
Powers hit Dion Puthoff with a pitch with one out in the first, and Hunter Cohee followed with a double to center field. Puthoff was thrown out at home, though, thanks to a tag from catcher Andy Wargo.
Powers loaded the bases with three straight walks in the third, but Kyle Noble hit into a double play to end the inning.
If Troy Post 43 wins Monday, it will face the loser of Sidney/Van Wert at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Custenborder Field.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.