MOUNT AIRY — There was no questioning the effort of the Mount Airy baseball team in the final game of the ALS Challenge on Saturday evening. The execution, however, remained a problem.
The Granite Bears rallied from an early 6-0 deficit to take a 7-6 lead against visiting Elkin, and trailed just 9-8 with the Buckin’ Elks going into the final inning, but then suffered another defensive meltdown and fell by a deceiving 16-9 final score.
Mount Airy surrendered multiple runs to the Elks (11-7) on three occasions after getting two outs in an inning, but the one that finally killed the Bears came in the top of the seventh. The team was hopeful of a quick, scoreless frame, and then planned on taking its final cuts of the game with a real chance at a walk-off win.
Things began well, as pitcher Matthew Dodd opened the inning by forcing a routine groundout. The next Elkin batter, Matt Martir-Tullock, hit the ball to the same spot, but the Bears’ shortstop couldn’t make a moderately difficult throw across the diamond. His throw to first pulled the first baseman off the bag and opened the door for the Elks. Tanner Edwards hit a swinging bunt down the first-base line, and while the ball was fielded, the defender waited too long to decide where to throw the ball and didn’t get an out anywhere. An inning that could have already been over was extended by way of a Jacob Burchette double, a single by Hayden Brooks and a triple off the bat of Hardin Walker. Eventually, Elkin scored seven runs in the inning and held a commanding 16-8 lead with just three outs left to Mount Airy.
The Bears had the bottom of their order up to start the last of the ninth, but didn’t fold. They managed to push across a final run when Alex Creed drove in Simon Cawley with an infield single, but left two runners on base. In any case, it was nowhere near enough.
Elkin started the game off like it intended to run Mount Airy off the field in just five innings, but the Elks had some cooperation from the Bears in that. Mount Airy starting pitcher Tanner Dutton got the first two outs of the game, but then walked two in a row, hit a batter and then walked in a run before head coach Jon Cawley felt he had to make a change. Robert Brown took to the mound, but Will Altemueller greeted him with a three-run double that gave Elkin an early 4-0 lead.
“We have gotten into a habit where we get two quick outs in an inning, and then we open the door, and (the other team) walks through it and puts a crooked number on us,” said Coach Cawley. “Two times this week, it was four runs in the first inning, and then you feel like you’re playing uphill the rest of the game.”
The Elks turned a passed-ball strikeout, an Eli Brown single and two more walks into a run in the second inning, and then went ahead 6-0 in the third, when Walker led off reaching on an error and was later driven in by an Walter Wilkins single. The Bears finally got in the board in the bottom half of that inning, when Dodd led off with a double and scored on a bloop single by Clayton Cogdill.
Mount Airy scored six in the last of the fourth to take the lead. Clay Taylor reached on an error to start things off. Brown and Cawley followed with one-out hits. Dodd’s single drove in two runs. The inning continued with Dodd and Cawley pulling off a double steal that plated Cawley. The next two batters got free passes, and then Cogdill drew a full-count walk to cut the margin to 6-5. Back-to-back hits plated the final two runs of the frame, and Taylor’s single put the Bears on top, 7-6.
Martir-Tullock singled in Altemueller and Eli Brown with two out in the Elkin fifth, giving the Elks the lead back. Dodd reached on a hit batsman in the bottom half of the inning and later scored on a wild pitch to tie the score at 8. An unearned run in the Elkin sixth gave the visitors the lead back at 9-8 with an inning to go.
The Bears will need a strong finish to the season to have any chance of postseason play. Wins in their two games next week, at Walkertown on Tuesday night and at Bishop McGuinness on Friday, are crucial.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.