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If defense wins championships, it is safe to assume the lack of it will make even the best baseball teams come up short.
The Central Kentucky Mudcats found that out over the weekend, as fielding miscues turned what could have been an incredible weekend into a so-so 2-2 finish in the USSSA World Series qualifier tournament at Western Kentucky University.
The Mudcats committed a combined 11 errors in two losses and saw the pitching staff overworked because of miscues in one of the team's wins.
The local team is scheduled to close out the summer season in their own Central Kentucky Mudcat Wooden Bat Classic, set to get underway Thursday night at Barnes Memorial Field at Anderson County High School.
“Overall, it wasn't a bad weekend but it could have been a great weekend if we had played better defense,” Mudcat coach Chris Copenhaver said. “We were playing some big-time teams and went 2-2, so that's not bad considering the level of competition, but it's just disappointing, knowing that we could have ended up even better.”
The Mudcats split a pair of games with the Lexington Grays, winning 5-4 on Thursday night, but going down 10-1 in the final game on Sunday.
In the tourney opener, Josh Brown gave up 3 earned runs in 4.1 innings to get the win while Mason Baker finished things off to pick up the save. Brown struckout three and gave up only two but surrendered four walks, including three in the fifth inning, when the Grays rallied.
Brett Thompson led the offense, going 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI.
In the rematch, the Grays took advantage of five errors in a 10-1 win. “I thought our pitching was good enough, but our defense was terrible,” Copenhaver said. “We had five errors and just couldn't overcome them.
Baker took the loss, but went 2-for-3 at the plate. “Baker had a great game and the rest of them just weren't in it offensively or defensively.
In between, the Mudcats defeated the Kane County (Ill.) Phenoms, 6-3, as Wesley Jorette did not give up an earned run in 6.1 innings. Jorette gave up just three hits against the team from the Chicago area, while Baker came on to get the final two outs for his second save of the tournament.
“Wes did a great job in shutting them down pretty much the entire game as they didn't have a hard-hit ball. If our defense hadn't let him down, he would have pitched a complete game. We had too many errors that led to extra pitches.
At the plate, Jorette was 2-for-4 with a double while Dusty Puckett went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI. Worth Sparrow also had two hits.
In their second game of the tournament, the local team fell to the St. Louis (Mo.) Mudcats, 11-4 in a game that Copenhaver said was much closer than the score indicates. “We were ahead, 4-3, going into the top of the sixth inning. The Mudcats gave up three runs in the sixth, then collapsed in the seventh, giving up five runs.
Tanner Walker gave up two earned runs and three hits in 5.2 innings. “He did a fantastic job against a very good baseball team,” Copenhaver said. “He didn't allow a hit between the first inning and the sixth inning, when we took him out because his pitch count was getting up. The worst part about it was that if we would have made the plays, he probably wouldn't have come out of the ballgame.”
The Mudcats committed six errors.
The St. Louis team, which entered the 20-team tournament as the No. 1 seed, limited the Mudcats' offense, yielding just four hits. “We faced a tough pitcher and I was proud of the boys in how they scraped and competed against him,” Copenhaver said. “They threw a lefty throwing in the low to mid 80s and we battled.
“The boys gave in a little bit in the seventh and they finished us off, but that is just another thing they have to learn in order to beat the really good teams.”
Copenhaver said opposing coaches noted how well his team played in the tournament.
“The opposing coaches and fans were absolutely amazed by how well the boys competed all being from one school but that is what I am trying to get them to understand that they can compete against anybody and compete against the best. … They have to learn to play and practice every day at a high level and after this weekend they showed that they don’t fully understand that yet, and you can’t show up not ready to perform against teams like we faced this weekend.”
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