Successful playoff baseball = clean baseball.
The Terre Haute Rex didn’t have that formula during Tuesday’s Prospect League West Division playoff game at Dubois County.
Early trouble on the mound and in the field doomed Terre Haute to a 3-2 loss at League Stadium.
“That’s what I hate about these one-game playoffs. Anything can happen. Hats off to those guys, they won tonight, but it’s unfortunate,” Rex manager Brian Dorsett said.
Terre Haute had six hits against Prospect League ERA champion Alex Britt – two more than the Bombers could muster as a team. But the Rex had more errors – both by the official scorer and from a mental standpoint – than the Bombers did and it proved to be Terre Haute’s undoing.
“We cannot walk people. We can’t give people opportunities by throwing the ball away,” said Dorsett, referring to seven walks issued by the Rex and two errors.
Rex starter Tommy Strunc – who had five of the walks — struggled with his control in the second inning and Dubois County drew first blood. Kolin Conner drew a leadoff walk and advanced to third on a Chris Tavares double off the right field wall. Strunc then walked another runner to load the bases.
It opened the door for the Bombers. Dubois County’s No. 9 hitter Austin Nyman drew a bases loaded walk to make it 1-0.
Controversy reared its head on the next at-bat. Bombers’ left fielder Landon Curry – an Indiana State starter – flew out to right field.
Rex right fielder Patrick Chandler eschewed a throw home and chose to throw to third base to get Bo Ausmus. The throw was dead-on and appeared to beat Ausmus to the bag, but Ausmus was called safe. The sacrifice fly counted and Dubois County led 2-0.
Rex manager Brian Dorsett was livid about the call and protested on the field to no avail. However, the Strunc walks put the Rex in that position.
Dorsett wasn’t pulling any post-game punches though. He thought the call changed the game and he took aim at the Prospect League’s umpires.
“The umpiring certainly cost us a run. The guy was out by 10 feet. The home plate umpire said he blew it,” Dorsett said. “It’s the one Achilles heel of the Prospect League, if they don’t fix it, it’ll be unfortunate. It’s bad for the fans and playoffs. It’s one of the worst calls you’ll see, certainly in playoff history. It should’ve been tied in the ninth.”
Dorsett was also frustrated with the balls used in the game.
“This ballpark is weird. It’s tough. We had Schroeder square the ball up two times that would’ve been home runs elsewhere in the league,” Dorsett said. “A little caveat is that they’re playing with B.P. balls. It’s not even the right baseball. That’s how bad it is. We’ve seen that late in the year at Springfield and Dubois County both.”
Sloppiness got worse in the third inning. Dubois County leadoff hitter Cody Daily led off with a bunt single, but Strunc threw the ball down the left field line, allowing Daily to go to second.
Rex second baseman Edmund Cheatham then threw the ball away on a casual throw intended for Strunc to return to the mound. Daily advanced to third.
He scored on a Jeff Zahn sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
Terre Haute tried to creep back into the game in the middle innings as reliever Alex Sachs settled things down kept the Bombers at bay (Sachs would pitch 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief).
Britt finally gave up his first hit in the fourth; the Rex had a runner in scoring position in the fifth and had a full-blown rally in the sixth.
Patrick Chandler led off with a single, but was erased after a diving stab and throw by Dubois County shortstop Dalton Rouleau. Terre Haute subsequently loaded the bases with two outs, but Alex Reynolds struck out looking to end the threat.
Another threat came and went in the seventh. Nate Bowles led off with a single, and with one out, Cheatham singled to right. Bowles tried to take third, but Dubois County right fielder Zach Long threw a perfect strike to third base to nail Bowles on a 9-5 putout.
Terre Haute nearly pulled it out in the ninth against a tiring Britt. The Rex drew three consecutive walks to load the bases. A single by Patrick Chandler made it 3-1 and a sacrifice fly by Kyle Kempf made it 3-2.
“We’re fighters. We never stop. We thought the victory was there, but we fell short,” Schroeder said.
But the rally fell short. With runner at the corners, Nick Johnson flew out to center to end the game.
“This game certainly doesn’t define these guys. I’m proud of them, we just didn’t get the breaks tonight,” Dorsett said.
Dubois County advanced to play West Virginia in the Prospect League championship series.