APRIL 19, 2016 - COVINGTON
The Covington Buccaneers came into Tuesday's contest against Tri-County North fielding a 3-7 record and reeling from just one win in the last six games.
And through it all, Covington coach Mitch Hirsch knew his team was capable of beating anybody - IF his boys played defense.
"I've been telling the kids all year that we can beat anybody if we play defense," said Hirsch. "Tonight proved that."
Covington played its best defensive game of the season, committing just one error in a 1-0 victory over the Panthers.
"We had the one error, but that wasn't an easy play to make," Hirsch explained. "We played very well all night on defense."
And the defensive play of the game was made by senior left-fielder Jared Williams in the top of the first inning as North had two runners on with two outs and a ball was hit hard into left field. Williams tracked the ball and made a spectacular catch at the fence.
"That was a huge play by Jared," Hirsch said. "If that ball drops, this could have been a different game because that's a very good hitting team."
The play sparked Covington and helped the players settle into the flow of the game.
And inning after inning, junior hurler Nathan Blei kept the potent Panther lineup off balance - limiting North to just two hits in the contest. Blei went the distance and struck out seven batters along the way.
"Nathan threw a great game," praised Hirsch. "His three pitches were working and he hit his spots. He changed speeds and location and kept them guessing all night."
Which was critical because Tri-County North sophomore Chandler Sproles was just as stellar on the hill. He held Covington to just three hits in the contest and pitched well enough to get the win.
"Their pitcher is the real deal," Hirsch praised of Sproles. "It was two really good pitchers going at it and we were fortunate to get one more hit than they did."
And that big hit came in the bottom of the fifth inning after Noah Thomas led off with a rare walk and James Grilliot put down a sacrifice bunt to move Thomas to second.
Coleman Ryan then stepped to the plate and wrapped a single into right field to score Thomas from second.
"Big hit by Coleman," said Hirsch. "He went with the pitch and put the ball in play."
From there it was a matter of Covington holding onto the lead, which was a tall task against a Panther team who came into the game with losses only to Versailles and Minster.
But Covington was able to hold onto the lead thanks to some big plays made by the defense - a defense that was shuffled around a little bit by Hirsch.
"We moved Tristan Sowers to short and he played a great game considering it was his first time playing there this season," said Hirsch. "He made a huge play up the middle and made the routine plays as well. Solid performance by him."
In a game that took less than two hours to play, Hirsch thinks his kids learned a lot about themselves.
"We are a good baseball team - when we want to be," he said. "This was a game either team could have won and we won because we played defense. Like I've been telling the kids all year, if we play defense we can beat anybody."
And Hirsch's point was proven on Tuesday.
SCORE BY INNINGS:
Tri-County North - 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 - 2 - 0
Covington - 0 0 0 0 1 0 X - 1 - 3 - 1