Six innings through Sandpoint’s first Inland Empire League game against Moscow, it looked like the season’s old habits had reared its ugly head. The Moscow Bears jumped out to a 5-0 lead, the offense couldn’t string together enough hits to counter and the defense wasn’t as tight as Sandpoint head coach Chase Tigert expected.
Thankfully for the Bulldogs, Friday’s doubleheader had a happy ending in part due to a freshman righty, some veteran defense and a five-run third inning.
“The first game was just a lack of execution on our part,” Tigert said. “We had another big first inning that should not have been a big first inning. We just gave up too many crooked numbers, but in the second game we were able to take it as a fresh start.”
No player took advantage of the fresh start quite like freshman pitcher Ethan Butler, who threw for six innings, struck out five and only allowed one hit in his final three innings of play.
“He’s like a sponge,” Tigert said. “When we talk about mechanics and grips and the mental side of pitching with him, he just soaks it all up. It’s amazing to see someone who’s only a freshman be so poised on the mound and pitch with such confidence in such a professional demeanor.”
As the freshman shimmied his way with every strikeout, the Bulldogs’ offense shot ahead with a 3-0 lead. Butler’s fly in the ointment — a two-run, three-hit third inning — set Sandpoint back 3-2, but the offense battled back. The Bulldogs attacked early in the count throughout the second game, forcing two quick mound-visits from Moscow’s staff. But by the time the Bears trotted out their third pitcher of the evening, the momentum was firmly in Sandpoint’s favor. Singles from Alex Stockton and Avery Bocksch, then Max Thielbahr’s drawn walk helped load the bases, then Kade MacDonald drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game. Connor Dodd’s single to shallow left brought Bocksch and Thielbahr home, then an error on a wild pitch sent MacDonald home two batters later.
But the highlight of the game came in the fifth inning when senior right fielder Stockton made what Tigert called “one of the best catches” he has ever seen.
Moscow’s Billy Adams looked like he was about to get the best of Butler during a six-pitch at-bat. But as his deep fly-ball careened into right field, Stockton made a beeline for the ball and made the out. Realizing that Chad Redinger didn’t tag up, first baseman Tyler Lehman got Stockton’s attention to help turn the double-play. It was a bang-bang play that even caused the officials to convene for a moment before ruling Redinger out. Butler’s final strikeout of his six-inning day ended the inning five pitches later.
Yet the Bears — with some help from the Sandpoint bullpen’s miscues — made things interesting. Despite only managing one hit in the seventh, Moscow drew not one, but four walks and wore two pitches in order to pull within three runs. Two pitching changes later, Caleb Davis and the defense put Moscow to bed on a routine ground out.
Sandpoint (3-6, 1-1 IEL) will host Lakeland for a doubleheader on April 18, starting at 3 p.m. Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Hawks will be played on April 23.
Moscow 500 314 — 13 9 4
Sandpoint 000 300 — 3 7 5
Game called in the 6th by 10-run rule.
W — Waters L — Authier (0-4)
HITS: Moscow — Adams 3, Redinger 2, Vis 2, Gray. 2B — Decker. Sandpoint — Brackett, Stockton, MacDonald 2, Dodd. 2B — Arroyo
Moscow 002 000 4 — 6 5 1
Sandpoint 215 100 x — 9 8 2
W — Butler (2-0) L —Vis
HITS: Moscow — Thompson, Decker, Redinger 2, Vis. Sandpoint — Bocksch 2, Thielbahr, Garcia, Stockton 2. 2B — Brackett, Dodd.