The West Lincoln Rebels (15-6, 7-4) let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers. Having won seven games in a row and with a chance to put themselves in first place, the Rebels fell 8-6 to Bessemer City (14-7, 9-3) on their home field.
Devin Shufford turned out to be the difference-maker for the Yellow Jackets. Using a live fastball and nasty curveball, the southpaw worked six and one-third innings, struck out nine batters and scattered five hits for the win.
â€œThatâ€™s the best game heâ€™s pitched all year. He did a great job. He kept them off-balance, was getting his curveball over for strikes. He did a great job,â€ Bessemer City head coach Mike Mahaffey said.
Rebels head coach Allan Chapman agreed; his team was never able to get comfortable in the batterâ€™s box.
â€œI thought he struggled early, then he got command of his curveball and kept us off-balance. We were out on our front foot all night long and unfortunately we never really got the big hit,â€ he said.
Down 8-4, after a Daniel Smith RBI-single, Chase Harbinson sent a fly ball to right-center. Over in plenty of time, the centerfielder attempted a one-handed catch instead of camping under it. The result was a dropped ball that allowed Paul Finger and Gene Arp to score.
With the winning run represented at the plate, reliever Michael Franklin ended the game with a strikeout.
â€œI just had a word with my outfielders about getting under the ball and catching it with two hands because weâ€™re not pro athletes,â€ Mahaffey said, vowing that same type of mistake wouldnâ€™t happen again.
While it left the Rebels with a glimmer of hope, Chapman was disappointed his team came out flat in a game of so much magnitude.
â€œYou got a chance with the long ball. Itâ€™s definitely an opportunity there, but realistically probably wasnâ€™t nothing going to happen. They beat us all night and they deserved to win,â€ he said.
Trailing 1-0 in the top of the third, back-to-back bunts by Chase Beam and Devin Wilson loaded the bases for the Yellow Jackets. Zac Williams played the role of opportunist, sending a line drive into left, allowing both to score and giving Bessemer its first lead of the game.
After a Trey Blake bunt loaded the bases, a wild pitch scored Wilson and Williams upping the lead to 4-1. Geoffrey Shiver closed out the scoring in the inning with a RBI-single.
So did the Jackets see a weakness in the Rebels defense?
â€œNo. Itâ€™s just we havenâ€™t been bunting the ball well all year long and weâ€™ve been working on it in practice. Weâ€™ve been beat a couple of games this year because other teams bunted and we didnâ€™t make plays,â€ Mahaffey said. â€œWe have to get our bunts down when we need to get them down, make the defense do something with it and make them boot the ball around,â€ he added.
Wilson went 2-for-2 with one RBI to lead the Jackets at the plate. Shiver and Blake both went 2-for-4. Williams was 1-for-2 with three RBIs.
â€œIt was a big win for us, but we have another very important ballgame coming next week. We canâ€™t have any mental letdowns and we got to get after it,â€ Mahaffey said.
Junior Ryan Rhodes suffered the loss for West Lincoln, working four innings, allowing nine hits, striking out one and surrendering five runs.
Junior Payden Houser went 2-for-4 to pace the Rebels.
Tyler High, Chris Henderson and Smith had one RBI apiece.
Despite the seven-game win streak coming to an end, Chapman still is happy with how his team is playing.
â€œWeâ€™re still playing well. You got to be playing your best heading into the tournament and take a shot in the conference tournament,â€ he said.
Both teams turned in spectacular plays on defense. Shortstop Blake barehanded a slow-grounder and threw to first baseman Tyler Bridges, who went into a complete split to record the out in the bottom of the fourth.
Tyler High turned in a spectacular catch in left field and had a RBI in a losing cause on the Rebelsâ€™ home field. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
West Lincolnâ€™s first baseman Jonathan Thomas and leftfielder High both turned in two great catchesâ€”Thomasâ€™ diving to haul in a foul ball and High made a sliding catch to rob what looked to be a certain base hit.
Henderson threw out two attempted base stealers behind the plate.
by John Mark Brooks