MIAMISBURG — Losses don’t get much more heartbreaking.
A 9-8 defeat for Bellbrook baseball in nine innings ended a marvelous year for the team with a game that displayed the strong will it possessed. But also showed how quickly baseball can take things away.
The Golden Eagles had scored four times in the top half of the inning to build its largest lead of the game, but CJ answered with four straight singles, followed by a RBI groundout, walk and finally a seeing eye grounder into left field to score the winning run in a five-run frame to pull off a miraculous comeback.
“It’s a tough one,” Bellbrook head coach Jon Venters said. “The game of baseball sometimes. They’re a great team and you got to beat them. And they found a way to battle back.”
Trailing 3-2 in the seventh with two runners on but down to its final strike, a base hit through the hole at third and short by Bellbrook’s Will Culbertson tied the score. Two pitches later to Benton Yoxtheimer, a lined shot into right field brough home Caleb Fugate to give Bellbrook the lead and brought its bench into a frenzy.
“Will looked at me when he got the second strike called and gave a little smirk and I knew right there he was confident and was calm in the moment,” Venters said. “I was excited for them.
“Yox came up right after and same thing. You could see a little confidence and swagger to him and came up with a big hit as well. Those two were examples of battling.”
CJ, ranked in the top-20 within Division II in the latest state coaches poll, however answered in the bottom of the inning by getting a sacrifice fly to extend the game.
Neither team got a baserunner in the first extra inning. A one-out walk by Fugate got things started for Bellbrook in the ninth. Culbertson extended the inning with a two-out single and stole second prior to Yoxtheimer hitting a hard grounder to second which couldn’t be handled for an error, good enough to give Bellbrook the lead once more.
A bases loaded walk drawn by Ben Bayer brought home a second run before a wild pickoff throw to first went down the right field line and plated two more to get the Golden Eagles its four-run advantage.
“There was all sorts of plays through this game of guys battling and fighting to leave it all out there,” Venters said.
Luke Benetis was stellar in more than four innings of relief on the mound, keeping his team within a run and striking distance as it made its comeback. CJ even during its ninth inning rally didn’t make hard contact, but found the right holes to start the inning off with four consecutive hits to setup its win.
With the lead down to 8-7, Benetis was pulled after his first walk issued with one out. A stolen base set up runners on second and third against Brayden Hubbell, and the winning hit bounced just out of the outstretched gloves from Bayer at third and Fugate at short, with the relay from Sam Barhorst in left getting cutoff by Hubbell before he fired home to Culbertson at the plate but bouncing it wide to end the season.
Bellbrook had come into the game winners of 17 of its last 19, clinching its first SWBL division championship since 2014 and reached 20 wins this year. The pitching staff had the best ERA in the league and was the backbone of the team.
“This game doesn’t define us, this game doesn’t define them, and it doesn’t define the season,” Venters said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Emotions were high following the loss, understandable with the way Bellbrook had battled to keep its season alive after enjoying much success in the regular season.
“You know we kind of talked about at the beginning of the year that teams that are bought in, teams which are all in, this is how it ends,” Venters said. “It ends in tears. Either tears of championship joy, or you’re in tears of heartache. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of because that means you gave everything you have and you left it all out there.”
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.