Just when it appeared Cannon County was going to get over the hump and be rewarded for improvements made during the previous two weeks misfortune once again struck.
Cannon County had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of eighth, trailing 3-2, when a hot shot up the middle off of the bat of Nathan McGuire turned into a game-ending double play against White County at the Cannon County Baseball Complex Monday (April 2).
“That’s kind of been our luck the last few games,” Cannon County coach Tony Stinnett said. “The players, for the most part, have worked hard and continue to improve. They are starting to put themselves in position to win. Now we have to find ways to win. You have to create your breaks.”
Brian Duggin led Cannon County with a 4-for-4 performance and Dalton Bell was 2-for-3 with a RBI. Justin Tobin, Nathan McGuire and Cody Phillips also had hits for the Lions.
Freshman pitcher Nick Vasser continued his extraordinary breakout season with another stellar performance on the mound. Vasser scattered four hits and allowed two runs over seven innings, striking out two and walking no one in a no decision. Vasser has pitched three straight complete games and has not exceeded 85 pitches in any of those starts. His earned run average in those starts is a miniscule 1.17.
“Nick has been lights out,” Stinnett said. “It is unfortunate that we have not been able to score a few more runs for him. Nick could easily be 3-1 on the mound. He is commanding the strike zone. He keeps his pitch count down. Nick trusts his defense. He’s been a bright spot for us for sure. Nick easily could have went back out for the eighth inning against White County as his pitch count was just at 83, but he had done his job. Just as (Vasser) has done in every start, he gave his team a chance to win the game.”
White County scored the go-ahead run with two outs in the top of the eighth to go on top 3-2, but the Lions fought back. Duggin, who was 4-for-4 in his first start at first base, singled to start the inning and Dustin Mears sacrificed him to second to put the tying run in scoring position with one out. Vasser reached to put runners at first and third. Vasser stole second and White County intentionally walked Tobin to load the bases and set up the force play at any base.
McGuire hit a shot back up the middle but the White County shortstop ranged behind the bag at second, made the play and turned the hot shot into a game-ending double play.
“I hated that for (McGuire) because he hit the ball hard and it looked like it was going to get through but they made a play. That’s baseball,” Stinnett said. “(McGuire) has been swinging the bat better and having more productive at-bats so I felt comfortable with him at the plate in that situation. It just didn’t work out for us.”
The game was scoreless through three innings before White County went on top 1-0 with a two-out single in the fourth. The Warriors stretched the lead to 2-0 in the fifth before the Lions pulled to within one with a run in the bottom of the fifth.
McGuire started the inning with a single and came around to score on Dalton Bell’s clutch two-out hit. The Lions tied the game, 2-2, with more clutch play in the seventh.
Tobin reached on a pinch-hit single to start the seventh and moved to second on McGuire’s sacrifice. Cody Phillips’ double plated Tobin with the tying run and put the winning run in scoring position with one out. After Austin Brown flew out, Bell walked, but Brent Duggin grounded out to end the inning.
The Lions believed the White County game is indicative of the consistent improvement they have made in recent weeks. They lost at White County 14-4 in the second game of the season.
“We have made a lot of improvement in the first four weeks,” Brian Duggin said. “We are playing well enough to win games but now we just have to get over the hump. Our defense has improved, our hitting is getting better and the pitching has been consistent. We just have to keep heading in that direction but, overall, we are playing much better baseball and giving ourselves a chance to win.”
Pitching was really the name of the game for the most part Monday. Vasser retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced to give the Lions a chance to rally and come back.
“I felt good about my pitching but there are things I can do better,” Vasser said. “My teammates are doing all the work. Teams have put a lot of balls in play and the defense has been solid. I’m just appreciative of the opportunities my coaches have given me.”
Cannon County played error-free defense. Brown, at shortstop, and Jarrett Melton, at second, were a strong defensive combination and Brian Duggin performed well defensively in his first start at first base.
The Lions will participate in the Highland Rim Easter Invitational at White County this weekend. Cannon County plays York (9 a.m.) and Grundy County (1:30 p.m.) Friday. The Lions face Meadeville (Pa., 9 a.m.) and White County (11:15 a.m.) Saturday.