The players on Washington & Jefferson’s baseball team have learned to come to its game with Grove City with a little helper.
A box of antacids.
In eight meetings over the past two seasons, no team has won by more than two runs and W&J has won six games by a run.
So it should come as no surprise on a sunny Friday afternoon that one run decided this game, 5-4, in favor of the Presidents in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference tournament at Ross Memorial Park.
It was the second straight tournament win for W&J, which has made 13 straight appearances in the tournament and is the defending champion. The Presidents play for their third title in a row 1 p.m. Saturday against an opponent to be determined.
This victory was filled with what-ifs.
What if W&J shortstop Jacob LaDuca had not sneaked behind shortstop Lucca Baccari, who had hit a no-out triple but was picked off by LaDuca?
What if Mally Kilbane had not pulled a hamstring, dropping him on the third base bag instead of easily racing home with the fourth run of the inning?
What if Jason Gregovitz had not kicked the baseball out of the glove of second baseman Luke Vittone stealing second base and scoring on the next play?
What if Grove City had not left 10 runners on base, including three in the seventh inning without scoring?
W&J starter Henry Littman hit five batters, including three in a row in the fifth inning, walked three and struck out 10 in seven innings to pick up the win. Shane Fox and Dante DiMatteo finished in relief.
“I guess (the hit batsmen) didn’t hurt us today but Henry’s ball was jumping,” said W&J head coach Jeff Mountain. “He lost his release point but he did bounce back and gave us two great innings in the sixth and seventh.
“I was never confident in this game. I don’t want to say I’m pessimistic but I’m always saying we have to prepare for this; we have to prepare for that.”
Interestingly, the pickoff was something W&J didn’t prepare for.
“I’d love to take credit for it,” Mountain said. “But it was just an instinctive play by our shortstop, who is a son of a coach. We knew the safety squeeze was coming.”
It might have been enough to drive Grove City head coach Matt Royer crazy.
“Little things. Little things. We had the player out at second base but he kicks the ball out,” said Royer. “We lost five times to them, four by one run and one by two runs. We played them three times and won once by a run.”
Royer said Kilbane had battled a hamstring problem for the last 10 days.
“He’s our best hitter and the injury denied him a couple of at-bats,” Royer said. “But hey, that’s baseball. That’s why you have extra players.”
W&J broke open a scoreless game with a run in the third. Second baseman Jason Gregovitz beat out and infield single and stole second base. Center fielder Tyler Horvat then sent a shot fading away from left fielder Jesse Clary. It took one hop and bounced over the fence for a book-rule double that scored Gregovitz.
Both teams scored three runs in the fifth but Grove City’s was earned by a much more unusual way.
First W&J, which was the visiting team in this game. Shortstop Jacob LaDuca hit a sharp bouncer to Grove City third baseman Mally Kilbana, which bounced off his chest for an error. First baseman Joe Lehner sacrificed him to second base.
Gregovitz popped up to second base before Horvat doubled to left-center, scoring LaDuca. Third baseman Nate Rush singled to right field, scoring Horvat. Catcher Peter Kalinski doubled to left, scoring Rush.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous. It was exciting to play,” said Horvat. “They always play us tough. They have really good pitching and a lineup that doesn’t beat itself. They’re fun to play.”
Grove City cut the lead to one and should have tied the game in the bottom half of the inning. Littman hit three of the first four batters to load the bases.
Catcher C.J. Saylor then lashed a ball to center field that should have easily cleared the bases. But Kilbane came up with what appeared to be a pulled hamstring and fell on the third base bag. Kilbane was helped off the field and did not return.