Baseball has often been called a game of inches. On this night it was more like a millisecond.
With runners on second and third and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Ben Boggess hit a shallow fly ball to left field, which left Tanner Muovich hustling toward the ball.
“It was really high,” Muovich said. “At first, with the daylight, I didn’t think I was going to get to catch it, but I just kept running and I finally found it and I had to lay out as far as I could go to get it.”
That left Independence celebrating a 2-1 Class AA Region 3 championship game win over PikeView at Ritchie Field on Wednesday night, the second straight year that the Patriots have advanced to the Class AA state tournament with a one-run win over the Panthers.
“It is tough, especially when you have got the kids that have battled all the way through it,” PikeView head coach Josh Wyatt said. “We did things the win a ball game. I thought we did a great job of putting pressure there in the last inning.
“The ball floats up there just a millisecond too long. We had a shot. I thought it was going down, but we will get back in the weight room here and hit summer ball and try to get back to this point again next year.”
Independence (26-7) was outhit by PikeView 7-4, but the Patriots took advantage of seven walks and a mental error in the field to score their runs.
“We put it in play, and we have been doing that down the stretch,” Independence head coach Scott Cuthbert said. “We haven’t been knocking the cover off the ball, and our scores have been misleading. But we have been able to manufacture runs when needed.
“We had a couple of boo-boos tonight and they did, too. The emotions of the game like this, it is hard to keep the kids focused sometimes.”
Andrue Hughart picked up the win for Independence on the mound, working six innings and allowing seven hits, with the Panthers getting their lone run with two-out singles by Zach Meadows, Ryan Roberts and an RBI single from Carter Shrewsbury in the second for the 1-0 lead.
“I felt good. My arm was live today. I was throwing the ball, I just punched the corners and threw strikes and tried to get runners out,” Hughart said.
That doesn’t mean the Panthers didn’t have chances, leaving 11 runners on base, including two each in the first three innings, and the final frame.
“The first four innings we had runners on second, we just couldn’t find that hit,” Wyatt said. “I credit that to Hughart. He did a great job of keeping us off balance early in the count with the curveball.”
PikeView (25-8) sophomore Levi Nash pitched the entire game, allowing four hits — just two out of the infield — but seven walks were problematic, including a bases-loaded free pass that followed two walks and an error in the third to knot the score at 1-1.
Nash, who walked the leadoff batter in four of the first five innings, finished with six strikeouts, including five of the final seven batters he faced in the game.”
“Early in the game, the first four innings, he was trying to place the ball with runners on,” Wyatt said. “I got a chance to finally tell him, ‘Use your stuff and get it for strikes,’ and he did. And then they didn’t hit anything hardly.”
Independence got what proved to the winning run in the fifth when Hughart bounced into a force play, and Brad Huffman followed with a walk. Colton Ward, who was running for Hughart, then hustled to third on a fly ball before Ryan Brandsetter hit a bouncer to Jordan Hardin at short.
The senior waited for the ball, fielded it, and then made a soft toss to Boggess at second, but Huffman slid in safe, allowing Ward to score.
“The coaches preach to us, battle up there with two strikes, hit the ball other way. If you put the ball in play, good things will happen,” Hughart said.
PikeView had one final chance in the seventh, with Hunter Moses and Jon Clark reaching on singles. Hughart was then replaced by Huffman, who faced his toughest outing of the season in the closer’s role.
“They both pitched real well,” Cuthbert said. “Brad, we have been using him in that role all year, but this is the toughest spot he has had to come in and he did a really good job. We were just fortunate tonight.”
Austin Cordell, who needed just one RBI to tie the state record with 65 in a season, reached on a close force play at third, and Clark and Cordell moved to second and third on a ground ball to first by Hardin.
That brought up Boggess, whose fly ball to left will be remembered by both sides for quite some time.
“When the ball was first hit, I was like ‘OK’ and then I looked out there and I was like ‘Where’s our guys?’ And I was like ‘Oh man,” Cuthbert said. “It could have went any way tonight.”
“Luck was on their side, the ball at third is a bang-bang play there, the fly ball just doesn’t get down for us,” added Wyatt. “When he hesitated and dropped back I was for sure it was down and I thought we had done it at that point.
“At this point you have got to have luck on your side and it just didn’t go our way.”
As the ball seemingly hung in the air, both fan bases — who were vocal all night long — were suddenly quiet, waiting to see what would happen on the play.
Suddenly, Muovich hustled in, dived and pulled it in, and was soon surrounded by happy teammates with another trip to Charleston having been secured.
“I got up and looked to see if I even had the ball to be honest with you,” Muovich. “It was unbelievable, man...We made the plays when we needed to, didn’t do anything too crazy and we just got it done.
“I will never forget something like that.”
at Ritchie Field
Independence......001 010 0 — 2 4 2
PikeView..............010 000 0 — 1 7 2
Andrue Hughart, Brad Huffman (7) and Jeremy McGinnis. Levi Nash and Hunter Moses. W—Hughart; L—Nash; S—Huffman. HR—none.