Jonathan Alder’s bunting barrage baffles Bellefontaine in regional semifinal loss
ABOVE: Jonathan Alder’s Luke Nees dives into Bellefontaine catcher Jordan Baughman at home plate to score on a suicide squeeze bunt in the seventh inning of Thursday’s regional tournament game. FRONT PAGE PHOTO: Bellefontaine’s Drake Roebuck makes a diving catch in right field during Bellefontaine’s Division II regional semifinal against Jonathan Alder on Thursday at Wright State University in Fairborn. (EXAMINER PHOTOS | TONY BARRETT)
FAIRBORN — Bellefontaine made diving defensive plays all over the diamond here Thursday. The Chiefs were undone, though, by an inability to handle the bunt.
After being victimized by one dazzling Bellefontaine defensive play after another through six scoreless innings in a Division II regional baseball semifinal, Jonathan Alder used four successful bunts in the top of the seventh inning to fuel a four-run outburst that brought to an end a magical Chieftain tournament run.
Bellefontaine’s 4-0 loss will sting for a while, with six fabulous innings by starting pitcher Kyle Brunner and his defense being spoiled by some fielding woes in the seventh.
“It came down to execution and they executed better than we did,” said Bellefontaine head coach Art Caudill. “They are a really good bunting team. They can bunt all the way through their order. Their execution was a little better than ours today.”
Alder, which has six starters that played in last year’s state championship game, managed only one hit in the first six innings against Brunner. He attacked the strike zone, forcing Alder to put the ball in play.
Defensively, it was a highlight-reel effort for the Chiefs until the seventh. Gauge Hayman made a diving catch in center field, Drake Roebuck did the same in right field, second baseman Cody Lyons turned in a beautiful diving stop at second to record a groundout, and shortstop Jarrod Houchin put on an impressive display of fielding up the middle.
The game changed in the seventh when the Pioneers changed their game plan and focused on small ball.
“Their pitcher did a great job keeping us off-balance and their defense made every play,” said Jonathan Alder head coach Craig Kyle. “I wasn’t going to wait around until we were able to put two hits together. When you get this far, you have to throw the kitchen sink at them.”
The Pioneers’ John Peters led off the top half of the seventh with a liner that bounced off the glove of Lyons and trickled into right field.
Trent Kaltenbach, who has been Alder’s most explosive hitter this season, followed with a bunt.
Brunner fielded the ball to the right of the mound and turned to throw to first, but nobody covered the bag. That gave the Pioneers runners at first and second with no outs.
Luke Nees then came to the plate and was also called on to bunt. Brunner fielded the bunt in front of the mound and tried to get Peters at third. But the throw was late and Peters was safe, putting Pioneers at every base.
Kyle decided to let Scott Peters swing away with the bags full. Peters lifted a fly ball to short right for the first out of the inning.
Alder went back to the bunt with its next hitter. Cody Rankin laid down a squeeze, with John Peters running from third. Brunner fielded the ball and flipped it toward home, but it sailed past catcher Jordan Baughman and rolled to the backstop. Peters and Kaltenbach scored to give Alder a 2-0 lead.
Following a pitching change, Mitchell Eye got in on the act with another squeeze bunt. New Bellefontaine pitcher Matt Entsminger threw to first for the out, allowing Nees to score. Rankin also raced around third on the play and he slid into home safely in front of the throw from first.
“It was a battle of defenses through six innings,” said Caudill. “They executed their bunts in the seventh and we had a couple of issues with our bunt coverages.”
The sudden turn of events left Bellefontaine dazed and in a 4-0 hole with one at bat remaining.
“That’s our program,” said Kyle. “We’ve stood on that since I’ve been here. We are going to force the other team to make plays. Bellefontaine is a great team and they are well coached. It just came down to the bunts.”
Bellefontaine put together a threat against JA starter Tanner Gaerke in the bottom of the seventh. Tyler Jones led off the inning with a single. The Pioneers used a fielder’s choice at second base to get the first out before Gaerke induced a flyout for the second out.
An infield single by Gauge Hayman put a pair of runners on base, but a groundout ended the game and Bellefontaine’s season.
Gaerke allowed five hits and walked three. He did not record a strikeout, but he took advantage of an equally impressive defensive outing by the Pioneers.
“Tanner has done that all year,” said Kyle. “He has been our 1A with Mitchell Eye being our 1B. We preach pitching to contact and allowing our defense to do its job. He did a good job of executing in some tough spots today.”
Despite suffering the loss, Brunner left a lasting impression with the grit he showed on the mound. The team’s number-three pitcher until late in the season, he became the go-to guy in the tournament.
See BUNT on Page 8
He struck out four and did not walk a batter against the Pioneers.
“Kyle did an outstanding job for us,” said Caudill. “He has earned every bit of the success he has had this season. He stepped up and gave us everything he had. I am very appreciative of that.”
Gauge Hayman and Connor Burton each had two of Bellefontaine’s five hits.
The Chiefs close their campaign with a 26-6 record. They have some promising young players returning next year, but must replace a talented and experienced senior class. That group includes Houchin, Brunner, Lyons, Roebuck, John Kirby and Nick Burton.
“Our guys had a great year,” said Caudill. “They came up one win away from tying the school record for wins in a season. It all started with great senior leadership. Those guys did a great job leading us and everything fell into place. This senior class gave us a taste of getting to the regionals by doing it twice in three years. Hopefully, our younger guys took notes and are able to get us back here.”
The Pioneers (25-4) play Franklin Monroe today in the regional title game. Monroe beat Tippecanoe 8-3 in the first regional semifinal Thursday.
JONATHAN ALDER 4, BELLEFONTAINE 0
Pioneers 000 000 4 — 4 3 1
Chiefs 000 000 0 — 0 5 1
Gaerke and Kaltenbach; Brunner, Entsminger (7) and Baughman. WP—Gaerke; LP—Brunner.