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By Dean Barker
Montezuma, VA - Down 2-1 in the 8th inning, the Montezuma Braves used two late shutout innings and an RBI double from RHP Keegan Oliver to beat the Bridgewater Reds 3-2 on Opening Night at Ruritan Park. With the win, the Braves start the season 1-0, while the Reds fell to 0-1.
Oliver got the win in two innings with three strikeouts and two walks. Tanner Ray took the loss after giving up two runs in the eighth inning. It was not a strong offensive night for either team, as Bridgewater outhit Montezuma 6-5.
The game was tight from the beginning, as both teams had scoring opportunities. The Reds left two runners on in the first inning, and then escaped a bases-loaded jam with a 4-3 double play, one of three Bridgewater double plays for the evening. Braves starting pitcher Lance Tate went 1-2-3 in the top of the second, and Reds starter Derek Shifflet struck out two to leave two on in the bottom of the second.
After walking the first two batters in the third inning, the Braves almost escaped a jam after a 1-6-3 double play, but a wild throw from shortstop Gavin Rush allowed right fielder Nathan Brooks to come home and give the Reds the 1-0 lead. After leaving four runners on base in the first two innings, Montezuma responded with an RBI double from second baseman Isaiah Blanks to tie it up in the bottom half of the third.
Tate had a solid start for the Braves, striking out 8 in five innings pitched with one unearned run. He gave up no hits until the fourth inning, and just three total to get the no decision. After Tate exited the game in the fifth, Hunter Clever came in for the Braves to replace him. Second baseman Brett Tharp jumped on him for an RBI triple to give the Reds a 2-1 lead. Tharp got too excited, and was caught trying to steal home.
Derek Shifflet got a no decision for the Reds, giving up one run with seven strikeouts in six innings pitched. Shifflet also went 1-4 from the plate with a walk. He was replaced by Antonio Florentino-Sosa. Center fielder Michael Robertson was walked and stole second for the Braves. Brooks was also walked, but the Braves escaped the seventh with a 4-3 double play.
Oliver came on to replace Clever and struck out three Reds, only walking shortstop Brandon Lambert, who also moved to second on a wild pitch.
“It was just really like an adrenaline rush, especially after the first out, the second, and the guys had my back all the way from step one,” Oliver told RCBL.
After Clever was walked, stole second and reached third on a wild throw, Bridgewater head coach Robert Sherfey brought in Ray to replace Florentino-Sosa and try to stop the bleeding. Ray would get a groundout from Blanks, but first baseman Logan Jones brought in Clever with an RBI single, and would advance to second after an errant pickoff attempt from Ray. A ground ball from catcher Owen Marshall would move Jones to third with two outs.
This set the stage for Oliver, who thought his evening was over before head coach Chris Rush told him he was up.
“I was really anxious, ‘cause, like, usually I only pitch like one inning… after that, it’s like, I don’t hit, I just cheer my teammates on,” Oliver told RCBL. It was his first at-bat ever with the Braves.
Oliver hit a 3-2 pitch to the left field warning track to put the Braves on top 3-2 for good.
Bridgewater would attempt a comeback in the ninth, as Brooks reached first on a Blanks error. A 6-4-3 double play was just missed, as Shifflet beat out a fielder’s choice. Catcher Jonathan Sexton was walked, and after a groundout from Noah Cornwell, the Reds had two runners in scoring position. However, they would get no closer, as Ray would ground out to second to end the game.
The Reds were doomed by their inability to bring runners in, leaving 11 runners on base, compared to 9 from Montezuma. Bridgewater had three errors, whereas the Braves had just two.
The Braves will return to action Friday, June 11 when they host the Elkton Blue Sox at 7:30. The Reds will hope to bounce back tonight when they travel to Clover Hill to face the Bucks at 7:30.
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