In the first two innings of Friday's rubber match between Harris County and visiting Columbus, the Tigers couldn't catch a break.
Pitcher Casey Cobb dodged trouble, but he didn't feel comfortable with his mechanics. At the plate, they roped three hard line drives, each going straight into a Blue Devil glove and one ending the second inning on a double play.
As coach Steve Westmoreland said after the game, however, baseball is wont to happen.
Taking advantage of a pair of walks, a hit batter and a bunt single, seven straight base runners reached base to begin the third inning as they scored four runs en route to a 6-2 win over the Blue Devils.
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The win gave Harris County the season series 2-1 and cut the deficit between the two teams in the Region 1-AAAAA to two games. While the Tigers need help in the form of Columbus losses -- the Blue Devils are 8-2 in region play -- they do own the tiebreaker should they close the gap further.
"We still want a chance to finish as the region champ," Westmoreland said. "You had to win this one. And we're going to have to get some help down the road."
A win for Columbus would have made the region race significantly less intense down the stretch. While it would
not have clinched anything, it would have put 2½ games between itself and the rest of the pack (Hardaway and Northside are tied for second at 7-4). Instead, Harris County responded to a poor effort on Thursday, getting a lead and tacking on some insurance in the fifth and sixth innings while Cobb found himself on the mound.
Hunter Morgan led off the third with a walk, followed by a single from Alex Graulich. Carson Powell attempted to sacrifice the two runners up a base with a bunt, but he made it to first base safely to load the bases with no outs.
Kurt Ornowski picked up an RBI by virtue of getting hit by a pitch and Hunter Hartshorne followed with a single that drove in a pair of runs.
Cobb walked to load the bases again, chasing Columbus starting pitcher Russell Forthofer from the game.
Tyler Maley reached on an RBI single that gave Harris County a 4-0 lead and made it seven straight batters to reach base. The Tigers could have had even more in the inning, but another hard liner resulted in a double play and Columbus escaped with a strikeout to end the inning.
After Columbus scored two in the top of the fourth on an RBI triple by Jackson Mellenberg and an RBI double from Jeffrey Oravic, Harris County added insurance runs in both the fifth and sixth innings. Ross McKibben knocked an RBI single in the fifth and Hartshorne an RBI single in the sixth to give the Tigers a 6-2 advantage.
"We've had such a hard time finishing games in the seventh," Westmoreland said. "So it was really important that we tack on some extra runs."
There were no problems on Friday, however, as Cobb came back from a few early struggles to set Columbus down 1-2-3 in its final at-bat. Cobb pitched a complete game for the Tigers, allowing two earned runs on five hits and striking out six.
"He really battled, mostly with himself, the first few innings," Westmoreland said. "He expects to be perfect when he goes out on the mound. He wasn't feeling comfortable with his mechanics. We went out and talked, said quit thinking about it and let the God-given talent take over. And, really, from the fifth inning on, he looked like the Casey Cobb that we expect to see."
"I haven't had my stuff all year, so I was just trying to get through the first couple of innings and I found it there at the end," Cobb said."
Now, the task turns to following up a big win for Harris County, something it has struggled with in region play this season. It plays at Shaw on Tuesday, and Westmoreland said a strong performance will be key.
"We didn't follow up our first victory against Columbus very well," he said. "We haven't followed a couple other victories up. Whatever goals we have as a team, they're still intact.
"We're going to need some help, but our guys are going to have to realize that we're not good enough to not show up and win."
Columbus also plays again on Tuesday at LaGrange.
Friday at Harris County
Columbus 000 200 0--2 5 0
Harris County 004 011 x--6 7 0
WP--Casey Cobb. LP--Russell Forthofer. Leading hitters--Columbus, Cason Greathouse 2-3, 2B, Jackson Mellenberg 1-3, 3B, RBI, R, Jeffrey Oravic 1-1, 2B, RBI; Harris County, Kurt Ornowski 1-2, RBI, 2 Rs, Ross McKibben 1-2, RBI, Hunter Hartshorne 2-4, 3 RBIs, Tyler Maley 1-3, RBI. Records--Columbus, 11-4, 8-2; Harris County, 12-6, 6-4. Next--Columbus, Tuesday at LaGrange; Harris County, Tuesday at Shaw.