VALE –– Before the season began longtime West Lincoln baseball coach Allen Chapman felt his team had a good shot at finishing in the top half of the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference.
With two league games left and a tough Easter tournament ahead next week, the Rebels are now left fighting for their lives.
Jake McRee smacked three doubles and drove in four runs, Sam Poovey threw seven masterful innings and Maiden downed West Lincoln 8-2 Thursday and sent the struggling Rebels to their fourth loss in their last five games.
The loss came 24 hours after they blew a three-run seventh-inning lead at West Caldwell to lose 7-6 in eight, and assured themselves a finish no better than a tie for fourth with the Warriors.
“I don’t know that we played that bad, we just didn’t hit it, up and down the lineup,” Chapman said. “The kids are frustrated. This is a position we haven’t been in in a long time.”
Both Poovey and West Lincoln starter Kenny Stevens had rocky first innings, but each bounced back and found a groove heading into the fifth. But that’s where Stevens lost his.
The third-place Blue Devils (9-6, 8-4) –– who are now a game behind second-place East Lincoln due to its 4-3 defeat at West Caldwell Thursday –– tagged Stevens for three runs in the fifth to turn a tight, 3-2 ballgame, into a 6-2 advantage.
Landon Cox reached on a single to start the frame, then scored on Kyle Kelly’s sac fly. Aaron Rudisill, who was intentionally put on to set up a potential double play, scored on a wild pitch, and McRee’s RBI double scored Dalton Hefner, who was hit with a pitch.
Stevens settled down again to retired the side in order in the sixth, and he left for Charles Mack George, who began the seventh.
George, who had one inning on the bump this season before Thursday, struck out Tyger McRee to start, then gave up four straight hits, including back-to-back RBI hits from Kelly and Jake McRee to put it out of reach.
“Maiden swung the bat well,” Chapman said. “They hit it and we didn’t. At this point you’ve got to tip your hat to them.”
After Maiden tagged Stevens for three runs in the first –– two off McRee’s first double –– the Rebels (7-10, 5-7) got two back in the bottom half.
Poovey fanned Cody Dellinger and Tommy Garwood for a quick two outs, but Ashton Rana starting a string of three straight two-out hits. Sam High followed with a single, and George plated them both with a double to the gap in left.
But the left-handed Poovey wasn’t fazed, and struck out 12 while allowing seven hits in the win.
High and George had two hits each, while the bottom half of West Lincoln’s order went a combined 1 for 11 with the only hit coming from Tanner Bolton in the second.
Hitters 6-9 struck out seven times and had just one productive out –– a sacrifice bunt by Lucas Brown in the fourth.
“We struggled with the bat, and in critical spots,” Chapman said. “(Poovey) threw well.”
Not only did the loss kill any hopes of West Lincoln finishing in the top half of the standings –– West Caldwell would win the tiebreaker via its season sweep –– but it also added to the possibility the Rebels may miss the state playoffs for the first time since 2005.
“We’re trying to rebuild, and we’ve got kids who aren’t used to losing and they’re frustrated,” Chapman said. “It’s just hard to keep their heads up … but life’s going to be tough sometimes. You’ve just got to get through it.”
Notes: The game was delayed 29 minutes in the bottom-half of the first so the sun could set behind the trees. In an 0-2 count, West Lincoln’s Cody Dellinger told the home plate umpire he didn’t feel safe looking into the sun, which was above straightaway center field. … The Rebels went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position while the Blue Devils stranded only four. … West Lincoln travels to North Lincoln for a 7 p.m. non-conference game today, then opens the Shelby Invitational Easter Tournament on Monday at Shelby High School. … Cody Dellinger, Tommy Garwood, Lucas Brown, Chandler Jenkins and Tanner Bolton were honored before the game on senior night.
Maiden 300 030 2––8 9 0
W. Lincoln 200 000 0––2 7 0
Poovey and Rudisill; Stevens, George (7) and Rana. W––Poovey. L––Stevens.