Less than enthralled with Tyler Jordan’s first at-bat in Tuesday night’s game with visiting Richland Northeast, Camden head baseball coach Denny Beckley had no complaints following his second baseman’s second trip to the plate. And after the third, the Bulldog boss was ecstatic.
Jordan, a senior, sent a Jake Mueller fastball to the gap in left center to drive in Carson Morgan from second with the winning run in walk-off fashion as the hosts rallied from a three-run deficit to take an improbable 5-4 win over the Cavaliers. It was a battle between two teams ranked among the top seven in the latest AAA state coaches poll.
The victory gave the fourth-ranked Bulldogs a 4-0 record in Region 4-AAA play heading into tonight’s conference game at Chapin. The loss was the first for seventh-ranked RNE in three league contests.
Jordan’s night started off like that of the rest of his Bulldog teammates as his striking out to end the third inning was part of a first four frames in which Mueller allowed an infield single while facing the minimum batters. Jordan made up for his first plate appearance with a line drive single to left in what was a four-run rally which gave the hosts a 4-3 lead. That single paled in comparison for what would come in the seventh.
Having settled himself down with a perfect sixth, Mueller got Austen Haney to fly out to deep right to open the home half of the seventh. Morgan then worked his way aboard with the first walk issued by the Wake Forest signee. Christian Flick followed by knocking a single to center field to set the stage for Jordan who sprinted around first base after his drive fell to the ground before leaping in the air en route to second, knowing that Morgan had already scored the winning run.
"It was sweet redemption for Tyler," Beckley said of the hits for the number nine batter in the order. "We were really frustrated with his first at-bat and I know he was frustrated with it, too. But he sure made up for it with two unbelievably clutch hits in the last part of the game."
About an hour and a half earlier, probably no one at American Legion Park could have seen this one coming. Not after the Cavs used an unorthodox method to get to Camden starter Will Abbott for three runs on two hits in the opening half inning of play.
The scene started to unfold with Nick Gelting’s one-out single to left before taking second on a wild pitch. Mueller followed by drawing a walk and a passed ball on ball four moved Gelting to third while Mueller sprinted over to second on the play. When Joe Stanton was hit by a pitch, it loaded the bases for Harrison Merck who went down looking for the second out.
In what was as good an at-bat as you would want to see, Justin Davidson fell behind in the count, 1-2, before fouling off four pitches. Then, a wild pitch allowed Gelting to score the game’s first run. When the ball ricocheted toward the RNE dugout, Mueller came in with the second run while Stanton ended up on third on the play. Davidson then hit a ground ball up the middle which plated Stanton with the third run. Davidson was erased while attempting to steal second on a throw from Flick to shortstop Cole Irick to end the bizarre frame.
The way things opened put Beckley and company through the wringer from the get-go.
"It’s so strange," Beckley said. "It was so frustrating because it was bad but then, there was a window of opportunity for us to get out of it with a 1-2 count (on Davidson) with two outs. Then, we throw a wild pitch and they score two runs off of it and all of a sudden, you go from hoping to get out of it with nothing to extreme frustration.
"I thought Will showed tremendous character in being able to overcome that and putting together six solid innings after that."
While Abbott got off to a bumpy start, Mueller was in cruise control through four. The only hit he allowed over that time was an infield single to Zach Boykin in the third inning.
In the Bulldogs’ case, things changed for the better in the fifth which started with back-to-back singles from Ross Hough and Devin Beckley to open things with Hough taking third on Beckley’s opposite field single to right. Haney followed with a ground ball to short which forced Beckley at second while driving in Hough with the first Camden run.
With two gone and Haney at third following a balk, Flick’s ground ball to shortstop went through for an error as Haney came in to cut the lead to 3-2. Jordan then sent a single to left before both he and Flick moved into scoring position on a passed ball. Irick followed with a scorcher which hugged the left field line and went for a two-run double as the Dogs took the lead at 4-3. Mueller would get the final out with a strikeout but the damage had been done as the hosts bunched four hits, a costly RNE error, a passed ball and a balk to push across their four runs.
"The first four innings, (Mueller) dominated us about as badly as we’ve been dominated all year long," Beckley said of his team’s early game offense. "I was frustrated. We were frustrated. You kind of saw him, possibly, getting a little tired there in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings and his velocity came down and we jumped on him."
The Bulldog boss added that his team did not alter their approach at the plate in the fifth inning.
"We finally put together some really good at-bats," Beckley said of the difference between the fifth frame as opposed to the first four for his offense. "It was a situation where the hits fell for us. I don’t really have an answer for you. We didn’t change anything … the ball just fell for us."
Camden lost its lead in the sixth as Mueller watched a low and away 3-2 fastball from Abbott which was called a ball. He would take second on a wild pitch before scoring on Merck’s one-out single to left. The inning closed with CHS pulling off its second consecutive inning-ending double play as this one was knotted at 4-4.
Mueller looked like the pitcher who started the game by recording a pair of strikeouts in a clean bottom of the sixth. Abbott matched that as the junior right-hander sandwiched a line drive out to Darius Smith in right field with a pair of swinging third strikes to set up Jordan’s heroics in the home portion of the final inning.
Abbott overcame an adventurous first two innings to settle down. The 6-foot-4 junior handcuffed the Cavaliers on just three hits from the first inning on. Along the way, he fanned seven batters on a night in which he threw 130 pitches in order to pick up his first mound win of the season.
"We extended him a little more than we should have but he’s a horse," Beckley said of Abbott’s performance. "He’s a guy who has always been able to throw more pitches than most guys and he didn’t want to come out.
"I don’t want to come off sounding like a wimp as a coach but sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures and we needed Will right there."
Camden out-hit the Cavs, 7-5, with Jordan collecting a pair of hits while driving in the game-winning run.
Beckley said a game and a comeback like this is one which can pay dividends down the road.
"I think it proves that we’re never out of a game … I hope that’s what it proves," he said. "We’ve had a tendency to be a little lethargic, at times. Hopefully, this will allow us to have confidence in ourselves when we get in this type of a situation later in the season.
"But I’m so proud of our kids. Words can’t express how proud I am of them and this victory because, for the better part of the game, it looked like we didn’t have a chance."