Rifle outlasts Hotchkiss in sloppy non-league affair
In a sloppy, error-filled matchup at Cooper Field in Rifle on Wednesday afternoon, the Rifle Bears baseball team was able to scratch across two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to slip past the visiting Hotchkiss Bulldogs in a non-league game.
Playing at home for the first time this season, the Bears would race out to a 3-0 lead after one inning of play thanks to three consecutive errors by the Bulldogs. But then they allowed Hotchkiss to get back into the game thanks to Rifle defensive miscues, resulting in a high-scoring game between the two teams.
Fortunately for Rifle, the Bears were able to break a 9-9 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning thanks to a two-run single by senior Drake Montgomery that drove in fellow senior Takoda Chaney and freshman Derek Wagler, giving Rifle the cushion it needed in the top of the seventh inning for Chaney to close out the win on the mound.
“We obviously let some defensive miscues snowball today,” Rifle Head Coach Troy Phillips said. “One error led to another and then another, but the great thing about this game is that after they tied it up, we came back and scored runs immediately to take the lead. That showed some resiliency and makes a difference in these kind of games to change the momentum, which makes it kind of easier to play some defense.”
Early on, the game didn’t appear to be a close one as Rifle would hold a 7-2 lead after two innings of play thanks to a bases-loaded walk drawn by Chaney to force in a run before senior Bryer Rew hit a towering sacrifice fly to left field to bring in another run.
Wagler would then follow up with an RBI single to left center to make it 6-2 before a throwing error on the relay to home plate allowed another Rifle run to cross home plate. That gave the Bears the 7-2 lead heading into the top of the third inning.
In the top of the third, though, disaster would strike for the Bears, as a bit of deja vu came into play from Saturday’s tough road trip to Elizabeth, where the Bears blew a 12-5 lead.
Hotchkiss would put pressure on the Rifle defense to start the frame as sophomore Presley Pene drew a leadoff walk.
Rifle senior pitcher Blaine Vance would then settle down following the lead-off walk by getting two straight outs on a fly ball to left and a pop out to short, but with two outs in the inning, the Rifle defense would come up short for Vance.
An infield single by Hotchkiss senior Kale Litzeman would put runners on first and second with two outs, leading to a tough chopper by sophomore Marvin Guereque that resulted in an error on Wagler and allowing a run to score to pull the Bulldogs to within four runs, 7-3.
One batter later, a throwing error from Rew would result in another run crossing the plate for Hotchkiss to make it 7-4 before a two-run error by sophomore second baseman Eddie Medina allowed the Bulldogs to battle back to within one, 7-6.
Holding just a one-run lead, Rifle would look to add some insurance runs, but Hotchkiss junior pitcher Eli Kirk would strike out the side in the bottom of the third inning, signaling a massive swing in momentum for the visitors.
Another error in the top of the fourth inning by Rifle would allow Hotchkiss to tie the game at 7-7, but Rew would make up for a few defensive miscues in the bottom of the fourth inning. He hit a booming RBI double to left field, driving in fellow senior Gabe Marbas to give the Bears an 8-7 lead.
Two batters later, Rew would cross home plate on an RBI single to left by Montgomery to make it 9-7 Rifle in the middle innings.
But not to be outdone, Hotchkiss would battle back in the top of the sixth inning. the Bulldogs tied the game on a sacrifice fly by junior Jonathan Gonzalez and a suicide squeeze by junior Chase Hiatt to tie the game up at 9-9, setting up Montgomery’s heroics in the bottom half of the inning.
Prior to Montgomery’s big hit, Chaney made arguably the play of the game on the base paths.
After leading off the bottom of the sixth with a sharp single through the hole into left field, Chaney would steal second to put himself in scoring position. While on second, Wagler would strike out on a pitch in the dirt that got away from the Hotchkiss catcher, allowing him to race to first. In the process, Chaney broke for third, where the throw arrived well ahead of him, but the senior went airborne, front-flipping over the Hotchkiss third baseman to avoid the tag before scrambling back to third.
While in the air, the Hotchkiss third baseman had the ball pop out of his glove, which led to Chaney getting the safe call.
Three pitches later, Montgomery ripped the two-run single up the middle as the ball deflected off of Kirk’s glove, changing directions before rolling into the outfield.
“At first, I really didn’t know what he (Takoda) was doing,” Phillips said. “I thought he would have been safe with a slide because it looked like from where I was that the third baseman had a long way to go to tag him, but he must have thought he was going to get out. But he leaped and was safe. It was a crazy play. It worked out for us.”
Holding an 11-9 lead in the top of the seventh and looking to close out the first win of the season, Rifle turned to Chaney on the mound to put the Bulldogs away.
The senior would make quick work of the Hotchkiss hitters, setting them down in order and capping off the win with a strikeout to get the Bears in the win column.
“I was really pleased with our pitchers today,” Phillips said. “It was a big difference from Saturday because we didn’t walk nearly as many guys, and I was really pleased with our hitters. They’ve got some great pitchers over there and our kids battled well today. This feels really good to get the win, especially against this team. They were a final four team last year in 2A, and they’ll likely be there again next year. To beat them after playing as bad as we did on Saturday really feels good.”
With the win, Rifle now sits at 1-2 on the season. The Bears will host Battle Mountain at 11 a.m. Saturday at Cooper Field.
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