Bend, don’t break
BERTHOLD – As far as fielding is concerned, Tuesday’s Class B American Legion tilt between Stanley and Burlington is one that Noah Zietz aims to forget.
Guilty of four Burlington errors at shortstop, the 15-year-old infielder made up for his miscues with a pair of key hits late in the game, including the game-winning bunt single in the bottom of the 11th inning. Burlington defeated Stanley 8-7 in a marathon contest lasting more than three hours.
The Bulldogs trailed by a run twice after the seventh inning, and each time, Zietz was equal to the task.
“I’m feeling pretty excited,” he said. “I was really down on myself in the middle of it when I was missing all those plays. But I just put it behind me and tried to play my best.”
Down 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth, Zietz led off the inning with an infield single, followed shortly by a stolen base which put him at second.
Cole Grosche’s grounder to the pitcher moved Zietz to third, and on the next pitch, a passed ball brought the speedy Bulldog in for Burlington’s seventh run.
Two innings later, Zietz delivered again with a carefully placed bunt down the third baseline with Aaron Schestler standing on second. The resulting throw from Stanley third baseman Jared Rice sailed into right field and out of play, clinching the extra-inning victory for Burlington.
“These guys are fighters,” Burlington coach Andrew Roach said. “You could tell they wanted the win right off the bat. Even when we started going into extras, everybody knew we should have already had it. We just needed to take it from there. We let them have a couple, we always came back and then we took it from them.”
It was far from the cleanest game the Bulldogs have played this summer.
Not far removed from a neat 2-0 win over Surrey in Berthold last week – a game in which Burlington conceded one error – the Bulldogs committed six on Tuesday, including two as part of a three-run Stanley fifth, which handed the visitors a 5-4 lead.
After a pair of Stanley errors yielded Burlington’s fifth and sixth runs of the game in the bottom of the inning, the Blue Jays recaptured the lead in the seventh.
With Grosche on the mound in relief after pitching a perfect sixth, Stanley starter Chase Lewis roped a one-out double to the left-field corner, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position. Moments later, a pair of Grosche wild pitches brought Lewis in to score.
A young team, 11 of the 17 players listed on Stanley’s legion roster are 16 years or younger. Five are 14 years or younger.
More than half the Blue Jays also participated in a Babe Ruth game earlier in the day, meaning certain Stanley players competed in 19 innings Tuesday.
“I think our guys are learning how to battle, that every pitch and every at-bat is important,” Stanley coach Cory Rice said. “They’re maturing right in front of your very eyes when we have long games like this. They’re getting a lot of baseball, getting a lot more knowledge about it.
“Stanley hasn’t had a real strong Legion team in quite some time, but you’re starting to see a group of kids that care, and now they’re starting to go out and perform like they care.”
After surrendering the tying run, Lewis was pulled with two outs in the fifth in favor of 19-year-old Jesse Lawrence.
Though Lawrence took the loss, he was solid on the mound for the Blue Jays, giving up two runs -both unearned – on four hits and no walks, striking out nine.
Grosche picked up the win for the Bulldogs despite blowing his save attempt in the seventh.
Joe Mellenbruch covers Legion baseball and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.