Playing “small ball” baseball is much like a chess match.
And certain plays from the “small ball” catalogue are much like the sacrifices offered and taken on the chess board.
Take the old first-third play, for example.
The base runner will drift off first, hoping to draw a throw that will allow the runner to score from third. Take the bait, and the out, give up the run.
“The first-and-thirds are what we score a lot of runs on,” said Ephrata Pride coach Jason Franks. “We’ve executed them well all season.”
On the chess board a player will find two of his pieces, one usually his queen, under simultaneous attack. Saving the queen means sacrificing the knight/bishop/whatever.
The Pride presented that choice to Strasburg-Willow Street Blue Wednesday night in the sixth inning of the New Era Tournament Midget Division championship game.
Blue refused the offered sacrifice, and ended up losing both pieces, metaphorically, and the game, in reality, as Tim Murray’s 2-run single delivered a 4-3 victory.
“When we didn’t get [the run], I was upset,” said Franks. “I second guessed myself. On their side of it, giving second base is a lot better than the run scoring, but that’s the run that ended up winning the game.”
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Blue coach Nick Ferretti. “I thought we had it there, we just couldn’t quite get it done.
“Our kids played well,” he added. “[Ephrata] just scored one more run than they did.”
A familiar situation, as Ephrata squeezed out a 1-0 victory over Blue in the regular season.
Down a run, with two out in the sixth inning, Ephrata (17-2) had pinch runner George Murray on third and Brooks Carr on first.
With Tim Murray stepping to the plate, Carr stepped off first and drew a pickoff throw from pitcher Peter Darrenkamp. Keeping a steady eye on George Murray at third, first baseman Nick Carson ran Carr towards second, but chose not to throw to shortstop Matt Carta covering as Carr pulled into the bag.
Then, Tim Murray ripped the first pitch into left field.
“I couldn’t let my team down,” Tim Murray said. “I got a first pitch fastball and just drove it. While I was standing on first base, I saw everybody cheering and I didn’t even know what I did!”
Carr was momentarily clueless too, from a different point of view.
“When I rounded third, I didn’t know where the ball was,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a close play, but when I saw the catcher lay up, I was very happy.”
Carr’s winning run completed a journey that started back in March with the onset of the scholastic season.
The Pride, 3-29 over the last two summer midget seasons, made the turnaround complete.
“If we wouldn’t have won, I think everybody in the program would’ve been disappointed,” said Franks, “with the majority of the guys being varsity guys.”
Ephrata jumped on top in the first inning on an error and Branden Rutt’s run-scoring single.
SWS (12-7) got one back on Carta’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first and the game settled into a battle of wills over the ensuing 3 1-w innings.
Pride starting pitcher Jayson Frymyer allowed just that one run, scattering four hits. But when he walked Dan Neff and Alex Ferretti back-to-back to start the fifth inning, Franks came and got him, giving the ball to Dusten Rutt, the winner of Ephrata’s tournament opener.
After a sacrifice bunt, Matt Feiler ripped Rutt’s best pitch, an 0-1 curveball, into left for a 2-run single.
Down but not out, Ephrata pulled together. Andre Hoover worked a one-out walk from Darrenkamp and was replaced on the bases by George Murray. Murray stole second, then tagged and moved to third on Madison Zimmerman’s deep fly ball to right.
Carr walked on four pitches and the chess match was on.
There was still drama to play out after the Pride moved ahead as Blue put its first two batters on in the bottom of the seventh on singles by Neff and Ferretti.
Carta flied out and Feiler forced Neff, bringing Jon Pugliese — who had twice popped up and struck out once — to the plate. Rutt got ahead of Pugliese 1-2, then threw him a curveball that caught the outside corner of the plate.