(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- With their season on the line for the second straight day, the Charleston Fighting Squirrels sent Trevor Bennett to the mound as they tried to survive another day in the Senior Babe Ruth Missouri State Tournament.
Bennett didn't disappoint throwing seven shutout innings in a pitcher's duel against the Chaffee Honey Badgers to guide Charleston to a 2-0 win.
"He's top-notch," Squirrels' head coach Michael Minner said Bennett. "A 6-3 lefty and he pumped strikes all night. One thing earlier in year that we talked about was he was struggling with throwing his off-speed. He threw it for strikes tonight and kept them off balanced. He wiggled it in there and our defense played tremendous."
Bennett was given a little breathing room as Charleston took advantage of a leadoff walk in the top of the first inning to score the go-ahead run. Brad Potts drew the walk before a steal and groundout left him at third.
With two outs Ryan Fortner lined a shot to left field that bounced off a diving left fielder's glove to give the Squirrels and early advantage.
After Charleston stranded a pair of runners over the next three innings Bennett was able to help his own cause with a with a one-out single in the fifth. He advanced to second on a groundout before Ethan Browning made the Honey Badgers pay for a walk to the previous hitter, Jacob Wilson.
With runner on first and second with two outs, Browning hit a bloop shot to shallow right field that eludes a pair of sprinting fielders to plate Bennett for an important insurance run.
"A couple pitches barely miss and it turns in to a walk," Chaffee head coach Aaron Horrell said. "They got one of the best hitters in this tournament up and you know he's do because he hadn't got a hit yet. A little bloop job did it and that was a pretty big run for them."
With three more trips to the plate to dig out of their newfound 2-0 deficit Chaffee put runners on with less then two-outs in each of the final innings. A leadoff single in the fifth gave way to a fly out and a double play, however, before a Honey Badger was caught stealing to end the sixth frame.
Coming back up in the seventh Chaffee was able to bring the tying run to the plate when a ground ball past short put a runner on first. Before the Honey badgers could mount a rally a hard hit ball to short was fielded by the shortstop, who stepped on second before firing to first to end the game.
"We played great," Bennett said. "My defense was there foe me the entire game. We turned three three double plays and I relied on them."
While they put runner on in each of the final three innings, Chaffee's best chance for a rally came in the fourth when a single from Jared Walker and walk to Dylan Koehler put runners on first and third with one out.
Instead of squeezing, the Honey Badgers sent the runner at first late in the count only to see a line out to short result in a double play that ended the frame.
"We considered a squeeze or a hit and run," Horrell said. "I didn't do the hit and run because I had faith in my hitter, but once I gave the steal I was thinking that might keep him out of the double play.
"Because the kid (at the plate) always hits the ball to the right side and just one time he finally lined one to the left side of the infield right at the kid. That killed us."
That crucial double play was one of three turned by the Squirrels on the contest with all three coming in the final four innings. In picking up the in Bennett didn't surrender a hit out of the infielder until the seventh when Johnson snuck the above mentioned single past the short stop. He finished the night allowing four hits and two walks in seven frames while striking out four.
"As I got deeper in the game I had more confidence and my defense was picking me up big time," Bennett said. "I just felt like I could throw a strikes, let them hit and my defense was going to pick me up."
Though he's saddled with the loss, Bennett's counterpart Andrew Dooley threw seven strong inning to keep Chaffee in the game. He surrendered both runs, earned, on seven hits and six walks while fanning six.
On deciding to pitch Dooley on against Charleston, Horrell said, "You have to go for the game at hand, but you have to think about the games ahead too. With Poplar Bluff being such a good hitting team I figured I needed to save my junk baller (Cody Payne) for them if we won.
"Going into to today he was going to start and I decided to switch it over to Dooley. He gave us a remarkable performance. I couldn't ask for any better, we just couldn't get the bats going today."
At the plate the Squirrels outhit Chaffee 7-4 with Bennett leading the way with a 3 for 3 performance, all singles. Potts finished the night going 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored as he reached in 3 of 4 plate appearances.
Christian Cavaness, Walker, Johnson and Nathan Holland had a hit each for Chaffee
After hitting the ball well all year, including 22 runs and 24 hits in their past two games, Horrell was disappointed to see the Honey badger's bats dry up when they needed them the most.
"Yesterday we had 10 hits against Poplar Bluff and the day before we had 14," Horrell said. "That's a kid (Bennett) that some us have seen before and we've got some runs off him before in high school ball. But today he was on and just kept us off balance. We just never could square the ball up."
With the Charleston advances to the next round of the loser's bracket where they'll face Boonville today at 4 p.m. in Charleston at Hillhouse Park.
Charleston 100 010 0 - 2 7 0
Chaffee 000 000 0 - 0 4 0
WP -- Trevor Bennett. LP -- Andrew Dooley. Multiple hitters: (C) Brad Potts 2-3, Trevor Bennett 3-3.