VERSAILLES – A seventh inning rally on Thursday gave the Versailles baseball team a 5-4 win against Coldwater and sole possession of first place in the Midwest Athletic Conference.
Versailles trailed 4-2 entering the seventh but managed to score three runs with a game-tying double by Brett McEldowney, three walks and two hit batters. With two outs and the bases loaded, Cole Niekamp was hit by a pitch to drive in Keaton McEldowney for the game-winning run.
“I’m real proud of them and how they played tonight,” Versailles coach Ryan Schlater said. “They held tight even though we were down two going into that final inning. They kept their heads up and battled in there. Came up with a big double to score that run and then at the end we got helped out a little bit but we’ll take it.”
The three seventh inning runs broke a streak of five consecutive scoreless innings for the Tigers, who started strong with two first inning runs before Coldwater clamped down.
In the first Keaton McEldowney got Versailles going with a one-out single and advanced to second on a Coldwater throwing error. After he advanced to third on a sacrifice fly by Brett McEldowney, Keaton McEldowney scored on a two-out single by Kurtis Rutschilling to put the Tigers up 1-0.
Austin Knapke followed up Rutschilling’s run-scoring single with a run-scoring double, driving in Rutschilling and putting the Tigers up 2-0 on the No. 3 team in the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Division III state rankings.
After getting through the first three innings giving up just two hits, Brett McEldowney ran into adversity on the mound for the first time in the fourth inning.
Malave Bettinger and Dylan Thobe reached on back-to-back Versailles errors to start the inning. After both runners advanced on a Jack Hemmelgarn sacrifice bunt, Kraig Schoenherr singled into center to put the Cavaliers on the scoreboard.
Bettinger easily scored two make it a 2-1 game, but Versailles maintained its lead as Keaton McEldowney gunned down Thobe at the plate.
“Any time that I can remember he had a play at the plate, even going back to last year as a freshman, I think he’s got them three straight times; I think he’s three-for-three in plays at the plate,” Schlater said of his sophomore center fielder. “So anytime we get a ball hit out to him and with a guy rounding third base here, we’ve got a pretty good shot to get him out. He’s got a tremendous arm out there.”
While Versailles was able to maintain its lead in the fourth, the Cavaliers got to the Tigers again in the fifth and took their first lead of the game.
Nathan Grunden led off the fifth with a walk and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Petey Post. Kyle McKibben then singled and Aaron Harlamert walked to load the bases.
After Versailles got a fly out for the second out of the inning, Thobe hit a two-run single into right to drive in Grunden and McKibben, giving Coldwater a 3-2 lead.
The Tigers gave Coldwater another run when they didn’t communicate and two players ran into each other on a popup by Hemmelgarn, allowing Harlamert to score and make it 4-2 in favor of Coldwater.
“That shouldn’t happen with the communication that we have, but it’s something that we need to work on still before tournament time and even before next week with league playing coming up,” Schlater said.
After having just one hit in the second through fourth innings, Versailles threatened in the fifth with a pair of singles by Jared Niekamp and Keaton McEldowney. Coldwater was able to strand both runners, though, and maintain its two-run lead.
“It’s a little stressful,” Schlater said. “We get up two runs early on like that and we think things are going well. I don’t think we set back on pitches, but we just didn’t really get something good to hit like we were before.”
Coldwater threatened to add to its lead in the sixth as the Cavaliers got a pair of base runners on back-to-back walks to Grunden and Post. Even though he threw 10 consecutive balls, Versailles stuck with Brett McEldowney on the mound and he got out of the inning, stranding both runners with an inning-ending strikeout.
“I think he was just getting frustrated with the mound with it being wet and cloggy and just heavy on his feet,” Schlater said. “It’s hard to get that plant foot so I just went out there and settled him down. He’s our ace for a reason. We pretty much go with him through thick and thin.”
Versailles again threatened in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out triple by Cole Niekamp. However, Hemmelgarn got an inning-ending strikeout to strand him at third.
That left Versailles with just one more opportunity for a comeback.
As the rain stopped and the sun started to shine for the first time all game, Versailles started to see new life in the bottom of the seventh.
Jacob Watren drew a walk, Jared Niekamp was hit by a pitch and Kyle Subler walked to load the bases with no outs for Versailles, prompting Coldwater to bring in Harlamert to relieve Hemmelgarn.
Harlamert quickly got the first out of the inning on a come-backer to the mound, throwing out Watren at home.
Brett McEldowney then stepped up the plate and drilled a two-run double to left, scoring Jared Niekamp and Subler and tying the game at 4-4.
“That’s why he’s the senior captain,” Schlater said. “He’s our ace pitcher on the mound. He’s one of our better hitters, one of our best hitters on the team. He gets it done.”
After Coldwater intentionally walked Rutschilling to load the bases, Harlamert got a strikeout for the second out of the inning. Versailles then won the game in one of the most unlikely ways with Cole Niekamp being hit by a pitch to drive in Keaton McEldowney for the 5-4 victory.
“Today I think we had a little luck on our side,” Schlater said.
Versailles ended the game with eight hits and three errors while Coldwater had six hits and two errors.
Brett McEldowney earned the win as he pitched the complete game, allowing two earned runs and two unearned runs on six hits, four walks and four strikeouts.
The senior also was one of the Tigers’ leaders at the plate by going 1-for-4 with a two-RBI double. Keaton McEldowney was 3-for-4 with two runs, including the game-winner. Rutschilling was 1-for-3 with a walk, a RBI and a run.
Cole Niekamp went 1-for-3 with a triple and a RBI. Knapke was 1-for-4 with a double and a RBI. Jared Niekamp was 1-for-2 and scored a run. Subler walked once and scored a run.
With the win Versailles improved to 12-3 overall and 5-0 in the MAC, the last undefeated team in conference play. Coldwater is now 15-3 overall and 5-1 in the league.
“Don’t want to be overconfident right now,” Schlater said of being in sole possession of first place in the MAC. “We still have Fort Recovery on Monday, Delphos (St. John’s) Tuesday and then the big game against Minster on Thursday. So anything can happen next week so we’ve just got to come out and play like we did tonight and hopefully we get that W.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.