If Washington County is to play its way to the Pony League World Series championship game, then the host team will need to have a super Tuesday and a winning Wednesday.
Washington County had a wildly exciting Monday night but ultimately what was missing was a victory.
Colton Hopp hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning and Bay County, Mich., gained the upper hand in the division by rallying to defeat Washington County, 5-4, in a battle of unbeatens before a large and loud crowd at Lew Hays Pony Field in Washington Park.
Washington County will play an elimination game against Simi Valley, Calif., at 12:30 p.m. today. It will be rematch of a game played Sunday and won 11-1 by Washington County.
Bay County, the only undefeated team in the division, will play at 8 p.m. tonight against the Washington County-Simi Valley winner.
“The crowd and the atmosphere for this game was awesome. I know we lost, but tonight was more fun than 23-3,” Washington County manager Ben Miller said, referring to his team’s rout of London on Saturday. “I know that I never played in front of crowd this big.”
Seats were hard to find and the game kept the fans on the edge of those seats.
Washington County took a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning but Bay County, the North Zone champion, scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Bay County used six pitchers with Landon Sella getting the win in relief. Cole Schmidt faced only two batters in the seventh inning and struck out each of them to get credited with a save.
Bay County manager Jim Butts is committed to playing the pitch-count game and keeping as many of his team’s pitchers eligible for the next game, which led to all the pitching changes.
“I love having everybody available,” he said. “We lost only one pitcher tonight. We actually go about 12 deep on our pitching staff.
“We demand a lot of them and we expect them to be able to throw when needed. That’s the way we teach and work with them. It doesn’t always work, though.”
It worked as designed on this night. Washington County had only four hits – each of them coming in a three-run fourth inning – but it was ultimately errors and mistakes that proved too costly to overcome. Washington County committed five errors.
“It was defense that cost us,” Miller said. “Everyone was happy with our defense because we had no errors in our first two games.”
Bay County took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on three singles, an error and a rare obstruction call.
Sella, who is playing his second Pony League World Series, led off the bottom of the first with a single and ended up at second base when the ball was misplayed in the outfield. Sella was awarded third base after Washington County was called for obstruction on the play.
Sella scored the game’s first run on a one-out single by Cam Shooltz, who made it 2-0 when he crossed home plate when Nathan Ball smacked a two-out single to right centerfield.
Ball was Bay County’s starting pitcher and he retired the first nine Washington County hitters, including striking out the side in the third inning.
In the fourth, Connor Helbling doubled for Washington County’s first hit but he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. That loomed large by the end of the inning.
“I take full blame for that,” Miller admitted. “I sent him (to third). I thought Connor had it made, but they made two perfect relay throws to get him.”
Mason Fixx followed with a single and moved up on an error and wild pitch. Ball then struck out Jake Egizio for the second out of the inning.
That was all for Ball, who had thrown 50 pitches and was replaced by Leland O’Leary, the sixth different Bay County pitcher in two games. O’Leary did not retire any of the three batters he faced as Calvin Daniels walked, Luke Dantry hit a run-scoring, hit-and-run single and Andrew Kocan belted a two-run double to the gap in right centerfield that gave Washington County a 3-2 lead.
“They threw some really good arms at us,” Miller said. “It’s tough on hitters when you make so many pitching changes. … It’s even tougher when they change pitchers with two strikes in the count like they did a few times in this game.”
Bay County tied it at 3-3 in the fourth as two walks and a bad throw to second base on a ground ball allowed Ball to score.
Washington County regained the lead at 4-3 by scoring without the benefit of a hit in the fifth. Tyler Johnson drew a walk and advanced on an errant pickoff throw and a wild pitch. He scored, on of all things, a strikeout. When the third strike was in the dirt, the Bay County catcher threw to first base and Johnson beat the throw back to home plate.
Ball led off the bottom of the sixth with a single off Helbling, who relieved starter Dantry in the fifth inning. A misplayed fly ball put runners on first and third, and pinch-runner Max Fellows scored the tying run when Devin Schular grounded out. Hopp, who did not enter the game until the fifth inning, followed with his single to right field that scored Lucas Julian and gave Bay County a 5-4 lead.
Two walks to start the seventh gave Washington County momentum, but three consecutive strikeouts ended the game.
“This was an important game because the winner has to play only one game (Wednesday),” Butts pointed out. “That’s why we were working so hard to win it.”