VERSAILLES – In a Midwest Athletic Conference baseball game featuring two future NCAA Division I pitchers, Fort Recovery beat Versailles 2-1 in nine innings on a frigid Tuesday afternoon.
Ohio State commit Cole Niekamp pitched eight scoreless innings for Versailles while Kent State commit Nick Thwaits pitched five scoreless innings for Fort Recovery. It wasn’t until the ninth inning that either team could get a run across the plate with Fort Recovery edging Versailles 2-1 for the Tigers’ first loss of the season.
“I joked around with our coaching staff it might be 0-0 for the whole game, and I looked up at the scoreboard there it was 0-0 going into the top of the ninth inning,” Versailles baseball coach Ryan Schlater said. “I think we may have given up one hit, two hits. They had one hit, two hits. Tight ballgame. Good pitched ballgame.”
Both teams had scoring opportunities against the ace pitchers in the first inning. Niekamp walked two batters in the top half of the first inning and Thwaits gave up a two-out double to Kurtis Rutschilling in the bottom half of the inning, but neither team could take advantage of the early base runners.
Only one other Versailles player got on base against Thwaits – Will Eversole reached on an error in the third inning – but he was caught in a rundown and thrown out at first base. Thwaits struck out 11 batters while walking none in five innings of work.
After Thwaits exited the game Versailles had a couple of scoring opportunities against relief pitcher Cade Wendel. Noah Grisez had a one-out double in the sixth and Noah Richard had a one-out single in the seventh, but both were left stranded in scoring position.
Niekamp, meanwhile, gave up four hits and walked four, but he went eight innings on the mound without surrendering a run to send the game into the ninth inning deadlocked at 0-0.
In the ninth both teams were able to get runs off the relief pitchers.
Fort Recovery started off the top of the ninth with a single by Reese Rogers and a walk to Kody Shinabery. Following a sacrifice bunt by Ethan Schoen, Ian Homan drove in the game’s first two runs with a single off Keaton McEldowney.
Versailles then rallied in the bottom half of the ninth inning and had the potential winning run in scoring position.
Andrew DeMange got the Tigers going with a one-out double. He took third base on a pitch in the dirt and scored when Rutschilling reached on an error, making it a 2-1 game.
Ben Homan then relieved Wendel, who struck out six Versailles batters in 3 1/3 innings. After inducing a groundout for the second out of the inning, Ben Homan intentionally walked Niekamp then walked Zach Griesdorn to load the bases. However, Ben Homan left the bases loaded as he got a fly ball to end the game.
“Unfortunately I think (Elliot) Bruns just got underneath it a little bit more,” Schlater said. “I thought it was going to drop off the bat, but that’s how it goes sometimes. But we had other opportunities before that, and we had a guy on first base in the first inning, a guy on third the last inning there – the seventh inning – then the ninth inning. So we had opportunities. We just didn’t make the most of them.”
Versailles ended the game with four hits and one error while Fort Recovery had six hits and two errors. Wendel earned the win for Fort Recovery and Ben Homan got the save while McEldowney was charged with the loss for Versailles.
“We came out on the wrong end of it, but there was a lot of good baseball that happened today,” Schlater said. “We had really good defense, good pitching. We didn’t really get to the hitting part until later on, but against a pitcher like Thwaits and Wendel that came in later on it’s tough to get some hits, especially with the cold. But we had a great game today. We just happened to come on the wrong end of it.”
Versailles fell to 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the MAC with Tuesday’s loss. The Tigers will return to action on Thursday at Minster, the defending Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV state champion.
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.