The plan seemed so simple for the Williamsport offense to execute Thursday night, but by the time the Crosscutters figured it out, it was too late.
Chris Serritella led off the ninth inning with a double. Two ground balls to the right side of the diamond later, the Crosscutters had their first run in the second game of a three-game series with Tri-City.
In six innings last night, Williamsport put its leadoff batter on base. But it was only that sixth and final time in the ninth inning, with the Cutters already trailing by eight, that the youngest offense in the New York-Penn League produced productive outs to score the lead-off baserunner.
Roman Quinn of the Crosscutters steals second base Thursday at Bowman Field.
Williamsport lost to the ValleyCats, 8-1. It was the Cutters' sixth consecutive loss at home and the 12th loss in the last 16 games overall. At 9-15 the Crosscutters are in last place in the Pinckney Division, 7 games behind first place Auburn.
Panic hasn't set into the Williamsport clubhouse yet, just 24 games into a 76-game schedule. But there seems to be some concern popping up. This is a team which manager Andy Tracy knew would struggle at times as the youngest offense and second-youngest pitching staff in the league. He said last night he even thought this level of struggle was possible with a team whose starting lineup Thursday consisted of six players age 20 or younger.
For the second consecutive night Williamsport struggled with runners in scoring position, going 1 for 10. And the only hit with a runner in scoring position didn't produce a run. In two games against Tri-City, the Stedler Division leaders, the Cutters are 2 for 22 with runners in scoring position.
"Offensively, we left some runners out there again, but that's what young kids do," Tracy said. "I wouldn't use the word panicked, but when guys are in scoring position, it's a different at-bat than when there is nobody on base."
Tracy said each situation with a leadoff baserunner should be as easy to accomplish as the one in the ninth inning last night, but there are so many variables that go into making it happen. Players have to have the plan stepping into the box that they're trying to move the runner. They have to get the pitch necessary to accomplish the plan. And they have to understand how pitchers are probably going to try and attack them to prevent them from achieving their plan.
And with a lineup that features five 19-year olds, it's not always going to work out as well as it did with Mitch Walding and Larry Greene Jr. hitting ground balls to the right side to score Serritella.
It's something the Cutters work on every day in batting practice. The first round of BP is all about moving runners with bunts, slug bunts, hitting behind the runner, etc.
"We definitely need to improve on our situational hitting," Tracy said. "But it's 18, 19 and 20-year old kids. It's just not the same as in BP."
Last night the Cutters put themselves in a hole early, leaving the leadoff baserunner stranded on base, or erased on a double play in each of the first three innings. Tri-City then scored single runs in each the fourth and fifth innings off of Williamsport starter Luis Gonzalez, who pitched well in his second start since joining the starting rotation.
As they've often during this two-week slide, the offense then had to battle back against a college draftee pitcher who was throwing well. The ValleyCats' Brady Rodgers, a third-round selection out of Arizona State in last month's draft, threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, allowing seven hits (all singles) and striking out seven.
"He threw well," Tracy said. "Worked off his fastball really well and spotted up. He threw some good sliders or curves to catch us off-guard. He threw really well."
"It's definitely a different learning curve. They've been playing at a different level than we have," said Walding, referring to the college draftee pitchers the Cutters have faced recently. "(Tri-City) has an older and more mature team and I think that has a lot to do with it. But I think even if we come out and play our form of baseball, we should be able to win games."
Tri-City added a pair of runs off of reliever Jon Musser in the seventh inning to push its lead to 4-0. Williamsport had a chance to get back in it in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with one out, but pinch-hitter Yan Carlos Olmo, who came on to face side-arming left-hander Kenny Long, grounded into a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
Dan Gulbransen delivered the final blow for Tri-City in the eighth inning, hitting a three-run double to the right-center field gap to give the ValleyCats a 7-0 lead. Tri-City improved to 17-7 this year and is the only team in the New York-Penn League at least 10 games over .500.
"I wouldn't say we're worried. I think we're just trying to stay focused," Walding said. "I think we know that we could be winning a lot of games. I think we're still building on it and what learning what we have to do to win games. Hopefully it comes soon."