FAIRBORN — When all else failed, Jonathan Alder decided to start bunting. The plan worked to perfection.
After being victimized by one dazzling Bellefontaine defensive play after another through six scoreless innings, the Pioneers used four successful bunts in the top of the seventh inning to fuel a four-run outburst.
Tanner Gaerke finished off his shutout with a scoreless bottom of the seventh frame as the Pioneers beat the Chiefs 4-0 in a Division II regional baseball semifinal at Wright State University on Thursday, May 29.
“Their pitcher did a great job keeping us off-balance and their defense made every play,” said Jonathan Alder head coach Craig Kyle, who saw his team muster only one hit through the first six innings against Bellefontaine starter Kyle Brunner. “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 kids did a great job getting bunts down. They did the hard part. It is easy to call them, but they are the ones that executed them.”
Jonathan Alder (25-4) advances to play Franklin Monroe at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 30 for a regional title and a chance to get back to the state tournament in Columbus.
A Bret Yutzy single to center with two outs in the top of the third was all the Pioneers’ offense had to show for itself going into the final inning.
John Peters led off the top half of the seventh with a liner that bounced off of the glove of Bellefontaine second baseman Cody Lyons and trickled into right field.
It then looked like Bellefontaine was caught by surprise when Alder standout Trent Kaltenbach, the number three hitter in the lineup, laid down 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 Pioneer 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. 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 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.
The sudden turn in momentum took the win out of Bellefontaine’s sails.
“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.”
Gaerke pitched out of a scare in the bottom of the seventh to finish off the Chiefs (26-6).
Bellefontaine’s 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 Bellefontaine’s Gauge Hayman put a pair of runners on base, but a groundout ended the threat and sent the Pioneers into the regional championship.
Gaerke allowed five hits and walked three. He did not record a strikeout, but he took advantage of another stellar 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.”
Jonathan Alder 4,
Pioneers 000 000 4 — 4 3 1
Chiefs 000 000 0 — 0 5 1
WP — Gaerke; LP — Brunner.