The Gilford 10U all-stars huddle in between innings during opening round action of the Cal Ripken State Tournament in Kensington on July 7. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
July 09, 2012KENSINGTON – Just eight years old, Ben Muthersbaugh had himself quite a battle at the plate on July 7.
The Gilford All-Star left fielder/catcher found himself smack dab in the middle of a pressure situation, as he fouled pitch after pitch off against Mount Washington Valley pitcher Nathan Grames in the bottom of the sixth inning of the teams' opening round Cal Ripken 10U State Tournament. Grames did manage to finally win the battle, getting Muthersbaugh on strikes with the tying run on second base to allow MWV to advance with a 3-2 win at Sawyer Park. The loss dropped Gilford into the loser's bracket of the double-elimination tourney.
Muthersbaugh's determination at the plate was a microcosm for Gilford's second consecutive trip to the state tournament however, as the 'little team that could' stayed toe-to-toe with MWV, the champions from District 8. It was a much better effort than last year's state tourney, where Gilford struggled mightily in a pair of quick losses that saw them exit stage left in a hurry.
"He fought and fought in that last at bat and that's kind of been how this team has played all summer," said Gilford manager Rick Muthersbaugh, Ben's father. "When there's a pressure situation like that, you know there are a lot of nervous parents in the stands. It's tough for me too, I'll go back and forth taking off the 'coach hat' and the 'dad hat.' But we battled down to that last strike and that's why we're here playing in this tournament."
MWV got on the board first against Gilford, as the visiting team took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Justin Olson reached on an error and came around to score on a groundout by Derek Dascoulias. But Gilford starting pitcher Hunter Wilson prevented any further damage when he struck out Dominic Jones to end the frame.
Things didn't click offensively for Gilford early on, as the team was set down in order in both the first and second innings by MWV starter Ethan Pepin. Wilson got two groundouts and a strikeout in the second for his own 1-2-3 inning, but MWV doubled its lead in the third. Braeden Bailey singled and Olson followed with an infield hit. Grames reached on an error, allowing Bailey to come around for a 2-0 lead. But Gilford shortstop Alex Muthersbaugh made a nice catch on a line drive for the second out and Connor Sullivan recorded a put out at second base to escape the jam and keep it a two-run game.
"Defensively we've been playing very well all through districts," said coach Muthersbaugh. "And we played very good defense again today. That kept us in the game."
Buoyed by the strong defense to get out of the top of the third, Gilford finally put things together offensively in the bottom half of the inning. With one out, center fielder Jack McLean reached on an error and took second base on the play. Right fielder Daegan Boucher followed, and he pushed a grounder in-between first base and the pitcher's mound. Pepin charged off the mound to retrieve the ball, but his throw was wild. Boucher was safe on the play, though he did collide with MWV first baseman Derek Dascoulias and was knocked to the ground. While Boucher was forced to leave the game due to injury, McLean did manage to come around from second base to score Gilford's first run and cut the deficit in half at 2-1.
The team wasn't done in the inning however, as Wilson would reach on a fielder's choice and advance to second base in the process. While pinch runner Austin Milligan (in for Boucher) was gunned down at second on the fielder's choice, a wild pitch allowed Wilson to scamper to third base with two outs. That set the stage for Alex Muthersbaugh, and he came through with a sharp base hit to left field that plated Wilson and tied the game at 2-2.
"We finally got some guys on base and came back, tied it up," said coach Muthersbaugh of the third inning.
While the momentum was clearly now in the Gilford dugout, MWV managed to come back with what would ultimately be the game-winning run in the top of the fourth. Chet Johnson singled and took second on a wild pitch, but a pop out to Alex Muthersbaugh at shortstop and a slick backhanded play on a hot grounder to first base by Alex Rives had Gilford within sight of getting out of the inning. But with two outs and Johnson at third, a wild pitch saw MWV score its third run of the afternoon and take a 3-2 lead.
Gilford had a couple chances in the final few innings to get the tying run, but the team couldn't break through against a tough-pitching MWV side. McLean (hit by pitch) and TJ Carmilia (walk) both reach base down the stretch but were left stranded.
"We had a couple of opportunities to get that tying run but we just couldn't push that one across," Muthersbaugh said.
The pitching tandem of Wilson and Alex Muthersbaugh proved to be the big story for Gilford, as the pair combined for an outstanding effort on the hill. Wilson went four innings on the mound, striking out four and walking just one, while Muthersbaugh pitched two shutout innings of relief to keep his team within range.
"Pitching and defense are the name of the game, especially when you get to this point in the season," explained coach Muthersbaugh. "And those guys were throwing strikes all day. Hunter pitched a great game, Alex came in and shut the door. Very happy with the effort they gave on the mound today."