OTTAWA — There wasn't a whole lot more the Ottawa Pirates could have done throughout the first six innings to win the finale of their NIB 12 Conference West Division series with Sterling here at King Field on Friday afternoon.
Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot more they could have done to lose it in the last two frames.
A terrific pitching performance by Jared Herzog had the Pirates one out away from a 3-0 victory over the Golden Warriors, only to have the lead slip away in the seventh inning and the game pass through their fingers in the eighth, giving the visitors a 4-3 win, the series two games to one and a stronger grip on the league lead.
Herzog allowed just two hits through six innings of shutout ball, but walked two before leaving with two out in the top of the seventh. Another walk by reliever John Bruner followed by a big two-run single by Cooper Willman and a wild pitch that scored the latter to knot the score, and Sterling won it in the eighth on Camden Bailey's suicide squeeze bunt off OHS' third hurler, Alex Stevenson. Ottawa, whose pitchers combined to allow just three hits but eight walks, fall to 8-8, 2-4 in the NIB 12 West, while the Golden Warriors leap to 5-1 and 12-5 overall.
"They're the returning conference champs and the favorite to do it again for a reason," said OHS coach Tom Hart. "They're a senior-dominated team, and you have to tip your cap to them for not giving up, even down to their last out.
"Jared was excellent today. He had great command, great presence, great personality on the mound, which is something that we talk about all the time to our pitchers. That kind of body language and confidence is something we really like to see. Everyone here on the field, at the game knew that he had a special day today.
"Our defense was solid today, too. ... We just needed to scratch out a few more at-bats early, maybe scratch a few more runs across in the innings we may have gotten one in but could have maybe had two, possibly three. If we'd been up four or five, everyone has more breathing room and the stress of the moment maybe isn't as stressful."
Herzog helped himself to a 1-0 lead in the first, following a Nathan Weitzel single, an error and a groundout with an RBI bouncer off Sterling pitcher Cooper Willman. In the second frame, the Pirates loaded the bases with no one out on a walk to Brandon Sauvegeau, a single by Bruner and another free pass to Ben Lundy. Though a one-out base hit by Ryan Wendt plated one run, that was all OHS could get from the golden opportunity.
What seemed an insurance run came in the fifth when Wyatt Hill drew a one-out walk, but was thrown out at home trying to score on a Herzog double. However, Herzog scored when the ball was thrown away for a 3-0 Pirate lead.
All seemed well until the seventh, when Herzog alternated a pair of walks and two strikeouts before reaching his pitch limit. Bruner walked Riley Hay to fill the bases before Willman singled to left for the first two runs. A wild pitch allowed Hay to net the tying tally.
Sauvegeau got out of the frame, but walked Alex Escalante to lead off the eighth. A sacrifice and a wild pitch set up Bailey's deciding squeeze bunt, as the Warriors scored all four of their runs on one hit and six walks issued by Ottawa pitching.
Nolan Sullivan then finished off his three innings of two-hit, six-strikeout pitching by fanning the side in the eighth.
"This is kind of a theme going on for our team right now, where we basically wait until the sixth or seventh inning to start playing," said Sterling coach Nick Pepper. "Their pitcher (Herzog) did fantastic today, really shut us down. Luckily for us, the pitch counts came into play ... but I'm very proud of the guys for hanging in there and coming back. That's great to see.
"(Sullivan) would normally be one of our top pitchers, but he's just coming back from a hamstring injury. It's great to have him back, and if he's pitching like that, we'll take that any day."
At King Field, Ottawa
Sterling 4, Ottawa 3 (8 inn.)
STERLING (4) — Hay lf 3-1-1-0, C. Willman p-ss 4-0-2-2, Morse ss-3b 2-0-0-0, T. Willman 3b-1b 2-0-0-0, Sullivan 1b-p 4-0-0-0, Escalante 2b 0-2-0-0, Alston rf 3-0-0-0, Bailey c 2-1-0-1, Bryant cf 4-0-0-0. Totals 24-4-3-3.
OTTAWA (3) — Weitzel 2b 4-1-1-0, Hill dh 3-0-0-0, Mezel c 0-0-0-0, Herzog p 3-1-1-1, Ruger cr 0-1-0-0, Stevenson 3b-1b 1-0-1-0, Cheatham lf 4-0-1-0, Sauvegeau 1b 3-1-0-0, Bruner 3b-p 3-0-2-0, Dorman ph 1-0-0-0, Lundy ss 2-0-0-0, Carlson cf 3-0-1-0, Wendt rf 3-0-1-1. Totals 29-3-8-2.
Sterling (12-5, 5-1) 000 000 3 1 — 4 3 1
Ottawa (8-8, 2-4) 110 010 00 — 3 8 0
LOB — Sterling 8, Ottawa 6. 2B — Herzog, Bruner. SAC — Escalante, Alston, Bailey, Lundy. SB — C. Willman, Morse. HBP — T. Willman (by Herzog).
Sterling ip r er h bb k
C. Willman 5.0 3 2 6 3 4
Sullivan (W) 3.0 0 0 2 0 6
Herzog 6.2 2 2 2 4 3
Bruner 0.0 1 1 1 3 0
Sauvegeau (L) 1.1 1 1 0 1 0