BRIDGEWATER - All four times that Bridgewater and Stuarts Draft faced off during the regular season, it ended up being a blowout in favor of the Reds. But that didn’t scare Diamondbacks’ pitcher Ryan Cooper going into Monday night’s game one of the quarterfinals.
Cooper took the mound at Ray Heatwole Field and threw 123 pitches over 11 innings as the Dbacks took a one-game lead thanks to a 4-3 victory.
“I was looking forward to facing Bridgewater when we found out we were going to face them,” Cooper said following the win. “I like a challenge. Any team is a challenge, but Bridgewater, you could view them as the best team in the league.”
Monday night’s game was certainly a challenge for both squads as neither team could hold onto a lead the entire night. When the Dbacks scored a run in the second, Brian Bocock answered with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning.
When Bridgewater scored two more in the sixth, Stuarts Draft was ready to respond. Calen Owens bunted to advance Zach Brown in the top of the seventh. Two errors on the play by the Reds allowed Brown to score the tying run, knotting the teams up at three runs apiece.
Neither team was able to get anything going over the next two innings and the game went into extras with both starting pitchers still on the mound.
After going down in order in the 10th, the Dbacks put together a rally in the 11th. Cooper came up to the plate with no outs and Brown on third, driving a fly ball into centerfield. Brown was able to tag up on the play and came across the plate for the go-ahead run.
“Going back up the middle and try to hit it to the outfield somewhere,” Cooper said about his mentality during the game-winning at bat. “We had an opportunity the inning before that and wasted it so I’m like, ‘We’ve got to at least get one.’”
Cooper still had to get through the Reds in the bottom half of the inning, though.
With two runners on and two outs, the All-RCBL utility man intentionally walked Daniel Heatwole to get to Derek Shifflett. Shifflett, who had already struck out three times on the night, went down swinging, ending the game with the bases loaded and sending the Dbacks home victorious.
Cooper finished the night giving up three runs and striking out eight batters. The only free pass he issued was Heatwole’s intentional walk. Depsite his performance, Cooper credited his team with helping him get through the game.
“I’ve gotta say one thing,” Cooper said, raising his voice as his teammates around him listened while packing up their bags. “On the wet grass, the defense was spectacular tonight. I don’t strike a lot of people out, so I need my defense to be good and they were catching balls at the fence, making great plays on routine balls and tough balls. That was pretty clutch.”
The veteran pitcher made sure his catcher received some praise as well. Kurt Latocha hit an RBI single in the top of the seventh to get the inning going for the Dbacks. He was solid behind the plate, too, picking off Josh Wright at first base to end the bottom of the eighth inning.
“My catcher was amazing,” Cooper said, motioning for Latocha to join him. “I’ve pitched for a long time. I’ve pitched to some good catchers. Sometimes when you’re gassed at the end of the game, you’ve pitched 11 innings, it’s good to not have to think about what you’re going to throw because he does the thinking for you.”
Embracing Latocha in a hug, Cooper was all smiles as the Dbacks celebrated their game one victory. They’ll host Bridgewater tonight at the Diamond Club in game two.
“These guys are awesome,” Cooper said about his teammates. “I’m pretty happy.”