By ROB HAMILTON
For the first four innings of Mount Gilead’s baseball game at Highland Thursday afternoon, the two teams were locked in the sort of tightly-contested pitcher’s duel that carried the potential promise of extra innings.
Unfortunately for the Indians, the fifth and sixth innings proved to be disastrous, as defensive miscues turned a 2-1 deficit into an 11-1 loss ended after six innings due to the 10-run rule.
With ace Xavier Harris on the mound, the Indians had gotten through the first four innings in fairly good form. Harris opened with three shutout innings and then gave up two runs, one earned in the fourth. That inning opened with Jett Swetland cracking a single, stealing second and scoring on a single by Wyatt Gresh. The costly defensive errors that devastated the Indians started to rear their head after that, as Andrew Stillwell hit a ground ball to the shortstop, who threw too late to get him out. With runners on first and second and one out, Harris induced a ground ball from Garrett Weikel, but an error trying to get a force out at third base proved costly, as another run crossed the plate.
That was only the beginning of Mount Gilead’s problems. In the fifth inning, with runners on first and second and two outs, Gresh hit a ground ball, but was bailed out by an error, allowing another run to score to make it 3-1. Harris then struck out Andrew Stillwell, but the catcher dropped the third strike and then threw wide to first base in an attempt to get the out — a miscue that allowed two more runs to cross the plate. Weikel then blasted a two-run homer to give the Scots a 7-1 lead and effectively blow the game open.
“The thing is we took advantage of Mount Gilead’s mistakes,” said Highland coach Travis Church. “They didn’t help Xavier from a defensive standpoint and we took advantage.”
Indian coach Greg Gompf felt his team was playing well, but then the wheels just came off. “Xavier threw really well — we put our best against their best (Highland’s Jett Swetland),” he said. “For the first three-and-a-half innings, we played well, but then errors turned into runs.”
In the seventh inning, Zac Sturges took over for Harris on the mound, but the Scots were able to keep the bats swinging, as they put up four more runs to end the contest.
After Justin Tuggle drew a walk to open the inning, Marcus Chapman followed by a single to put runners on the corners. Byron Belcher grounded out, but a run crossed the plate for the Scots and Swetland followed with an RBI double to make it 9-1.
With runners on first and third, Gresh drove in a run on a groundout and, after a walk, Weikel ended the game with a run-scoring single.
Church was happy his team was able to put things together to get past the Indians.
“We respect what Coach Gompf is doing,” he said. “They’re off to a nice start. They’re a team that’s figuring out how to win, which makes them dangerous.”
Early on, it looked like the Indians would be able to make Highland their fifth straight win to open the season, as they struck in the top of the first inning. Sturges opened the game with a single off Swetland. Then, with one out, Harris was hit by a pitch and Michael Bland followed with an RBI single to give his team a 1-0 lead.
Church noted that Swetland didn’t seem to have the necessary pop to his pitches or intensity in the early going, but corrected that immediately.
“He’s done a real nice job,” said the coach. “He’s also doing a great job in the dugout and with leadership.”
After that inning, Swetland prevented Mount Gilead from gaining any extra momentum, striking out the side in both the second and fourth innings and not letting a runner past second base the rest of the way. He finished with 13 strikeouts and three walks, while Harris tallied seven Ks for the Indians.
Gompf looked at the way the game transpired as a learning experience for his squad, which is looking to improve on its standing in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference.
“Our biggest thing is trusting in our ability to play the game,” he said. “We kind of got down on ourselves and it snowballed into what it was.”
In the other dugout, Church noted that his squad is starting to show the sort of effort he expects from them after a bit of a slow start.
“We challenged the boys earlier in the week that our program is built on hard work and we weren’t seeing that,” he said. “The last couple nights have been better — it’s a nice building block for us.”
Rob Hamilton may be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 204.