November 29, 2014

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H.S. Baseball: Columbia nips Lutheran West in 9th inning, sweeps back-to-back series

ROCKY RIVER — Baseball people talk about “small ball” or “little ball,” a style of play that relies on strict execution of fundamentals and scraping and scrapping every at-bat for any tiny edge.

Thanks to another brilliant Patriot Athletic Conference pitching battle Tuesday, the Lutheran West Longhorns and Columbia Raiders played “micro ball” in the Raiders’ 2-1 extra-inning victory in a Stripes Division showdown.

One of the chief miniaturizers was Lutheran West starting pitcher Greg Kunze, who pitched all nine innings and allowed two runs on three hits while fanning nine.

“I like these games, pitchers duels,” Longhorns coach Trey Lamb. “You put Greg out there and he’s gonna pitch his heart out. He throws his pitches that he likes and he has confidence in them, and that’s what you need to be a good pitcher.”

Columbia micro-crafted the winning run in the ninth when Michael Booey worked Kunze for a walk, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. One out later, the speedy Booey scored on a not particularly deep sacrifice fly to left by Jacob Kleinhenz.

“With Booey on third base, he’s one of our fastest guys so if we had anyone else there that play maybe doesn’t happen,” Raiders coach Justin Ramsey said. “All Jacob had to do is get it out of the infield, so it was the best scenario for us.”

The reason Kunze’s near-perfect outing wound up being a losing effort was that his opposite number, Columbia starter Kevin Simon, crafted a no-hitter through 6⅓ innings before getting into a bases-loaded jam.

In the sixth, Simon got two quick outs with one-hoppers back to the mound. Then a wicked Aaron Geye line drive back through the middle hit the left-hander on his pitching hand. Simon gamely returned to get the first out of the seventh before yielding a Texas League double to right by Sam Jakabcic and a hustling infield single by Jake Pshock. Simon walked Josh Cales to load the bases and was finished.

He left the ballpark to seek medical treatment. He allowed one run, two hits and five walks while striking out three.

“You could tell right away that there was something wrong, that he wasn’t on his game as he was in the previous innings,” Ramsey said. “That is one of the best games that Kevin has pitched, so for him to fall off like that you could tell something was wrong.”

The Raiders’ excellent pitching adventure continued when Danny Crites came into the bases-loaded jam and worked through consecutive gritty at-bats to stop the threat. Crites pitched a scoreless eighth before yielding to Booey after Columbia took the lead in the ninth.

Booey was the winning pitcher Monday in Columbia’s 8-0 home win in the back-to-back games with the Longhorns.

“He wanted it. He pitched yesterday and we wouldn’t usually use him the next day like that, but he wanted the game,” Ramsey said. “Not that Crites couldn’t have done it, but with what Michael did yesterday for this team, I was very confident that with one run he could get the job done and shut the door.”

While exemplary pitching was the theme of the day for the Raiders, they were maybe best defined by The Tyler Underwood Experience. In the third inning, after Lutheran West’s Tommy Walker walked and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice, shortstop Underwood fielded the next ground ball going to his right and attempted to get the lead runner at third. His errant throw hit Walker in the back and put runners at the corners, extending the threat. Cales’ grounder plated Walker and gave Lutheran West a lead despite being no-hit.

Undaunted, in the top of the fourth, Underwood beat out a single to deep short with two outs. He proceeded to steal second and third and scored as the throw to third went wide.

“He’s one of those guys who can read pitching so he sees that,” Ramsey said. “I didn’t give him a steal sign, but he took it upon himself to take both second and third and that’s all just sports mentality and knowing the game like he does.”

The two-day sweep moved division-leading Columbia to 9-2, 8-0 in the PAC and extended its lead over Lutheran West (9-6, 6-4) while the rest of the Stripes Division is below. 500.

Despite the sweep, the Longhorns aren’t losing focus.

“We have no control over them. We have some more games and then playoffs,” Kunze said. “We just have to win what we have, we can’t control what they do.”

Contact Fred Steiner at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.

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