Any chances of Lower Sussex repeating as the Delaware state Junior League baseball champs were dashed by Laurel’s All-Stars in a Game Two showdown on July 24.
Laurel sent Lower Sussex to the loser’s bracket in a 10-9 loss but they countered in a do-or-die Game One of the championship round, on a two-RBI walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh by Justin Rines. However, the team couldn’t win the three-game series.
Despite having runners in scoring position in the first three innings, Lower Sussex starting pitcher Corey Showalter and his defense held Laurel scoreless — until Joey Mitchell plated Chris Cutsail on a sac-fly to right field for the only score of the game.
Cutsail led off the fifth with a bloop single down the line into shallow left field, and a sac bunt by starting pitcher Brandon Fisher moved Cutsail to second base.
Cutsail then beat a pickoff attempt by Showalter and slid around third-baseman Timmy Bokinsky’s tag to give them a runner at third with only one out.
After working a 1-2 count to Brandon Hearne, Showalter let him get away and issued three straight balls for the walk, giving Laurel runners on the corners. Hearne stole second on a ball low and outside to eliminate the double-play ball, and Mitchell delivered on the very next pitch.
Right-fielder Matt McDowell made a good cutoff throw to Showalter, but an errant throw home to catcher Jake Buchler allowed Cutsail to score, giving Laurel a 1-0 lead.
“Small ball was the key,” Laurel assistant head coach Glen Phillips Jr. said. “We’ve faced Showalter seven or eight times this year and it seems every game he pitches is decided by one run.”
Laurel’s ability to manufacture runs in the fifth inning was countered by Lower Sussex’s inability to keep runners on the bases.
Lower Sussex had only three base-runners all game (two walks and one hit) but two of those three were caught too far off the bag, for outs.
McDowell led off the game with a walk, only to get tagged out on an immediate pitchout with Elijah Foreman at the plate.
Bokinsky earned Lower Sussex’s only hit of the game with no outs in the sixth inning, and in an attempt to put his team in better scoring position, head coach Rick Stephens let his fastest base runner — the cheetah-like Foreman — pinch run.
Unfortunately for Lower Sussex, Foreman got caught (like McDowell, in an immediate pitchout) and despite his best efforts to retreat was tagged out.
“We made some mental mistakes on the bases and Laurel played flawless baseball,” Stephens said.
Fisher, a southpaw, knew about Foreman’s speed and what he’d try to do if he got on base. So, from there, he harkened back to his preparation the prior week in anticipation of this game.
“The coaches worked with me on pickoffs and run downs all week,” Fisher said. “But when he got on base — I won’t lie — I was scared to death. My first idea was to get him off the base. And when we did, it took a lot of pressure off.”
Foreman headed back to the dugout knowing he’d squandered a golden opportunity and, though Fisher faced the heart of Lower Sussex’s lineup, he knew the worst was behind him.
Rines grounded out to third on a 0-1 count; Showalter struck out swinging; and shortstop Drew Hitchens popped out to deep-right centerfield for the final out.
“After the game, I called some of the guys and stopped by some of their houses and told them their luck ran out this week,” Phillips said of the 3-1 Game One championship loss.
Fisher struck out seven, allowed only one hit and one walk, while giving up no runs in a complete-game effort.
Showalter also pitched a compete-game but struck out only four, gave up six hits and allowed three walks.