Normally a baseball player might already have as many as 40 or 50 games under his belt by the time fall ball rolls around. Those games in September and October are supposed to be about fine-tuning old skills or beginning to work on new ones. It often winds up being when players take some of the biggest striders.
But this year is different. So different. Monumentally different. There was no spring season and the summer season was spotty and subject to change in terms of postponements or cancellations or underground, secret nobody-needs-know contests.
Sure, some players played, but nothing was normal.
So the fact that a considerable amount of rust has built up makes sense. That reality was demonstrated by the Kelso Premier 18U squad and the Aloha Warriors 18U team Friday night here at Rister Stadium, where the latter, older group scored five ninth-inning runs and then held off a late charge by the home team to escape with a 10-9 win.
“Walks killed us, when it comes down to it,” Kelso Premier skipper Emilio Foden said. “I don’t know if it was a little bit of rain, mound slippery, and the errors in the last inning. That ate us alive a little bit.”
Sloppy would be the wrong word, but rusty definitely fits. There were nine errors and 22 combined walks in the game. Eight of those bases on balls came around to score.
Walks were especially damaging to KP in the fifth and the ninth frames, when Kyler Schellenbarger walked the first four batters of the frame, resulting in four Aloha runs that flipped a 3-1 Kelso lead into a 4-3 deficit.
In the ninth inning, when things are known to get weird, things got weird. Premier pitcher Kris Tsinnajinnie, who had done nothing but compete for three innings as KP inched ahead to a 7-5 lead through eight innings, suddenly lost his control. Three walks tallied up in the inning before manager Foden made a change.
The control issues definitely weren’t limited to KP, and Kelso catcher Zach Ruwaldt wondered if the new Rister turf, only in its seventh game, had something to do with it.
“I think a lot of it had to do with a slippery ball,” Ruwaldt said. “It’s still fairly new turf. It’s still got oils on it, so the ball gets really slick and kind of oily-feeling. And the rain didn’t help.”
But that ninth inning had a couple of defensive miscues that were just as costly.
The main one came with runners at second and third with two outs and KP up 7-5. Eli Holt stung a ball into the hole at second, and Zach Torppa moved quickly to his left and kept the hot shot in the infield with a sprawling dive. But he came to his feet off-balance and rushed a throw to Matt Swanson at first that sailed wide.
It took the burly first baseman into the line and he subsequently ran into Holt at first base. The throw then trickled into the Aloha dugout. The unlucky bounce gave Holt second, and Brandon Cabrera came around from second to score on the throw.
Torppa had done something similar a couple times before, with spotty throws to first. No throw would have held Cabrera at third with another chance to win the game. Ça va.
“They’re kids,” Foden said. “It happens.”
After a walk — which brought out the pitching coach for a visit — Cale Franzen lofted a ball into left that Masyn Allison appeared to be tracking down. But he backpedaled instead of turning and running, and, with eyes bouncing all over the place, saw a lazy fly ball go in and out of his glove before rattling around at his feet. The Aloha runners — Holt and Dallas Cessna — were moving on contact and both scored easily, giving Aloha its first lead since the fifth inning.
It’s notoriously difficult to come back and play the bottom of the final inning after giving away a lead, especially in the fashion that KP suffered that fate. And especially considering KP used the seventh and the eighth frames to scratch across the go-ahead and an insurance runs with the help of so many wild pitches.
But KP did not fold. Instead, they matched the now wild energy emanating from the Aloha dugout, and attempted to extend a three-and-a-half-hour game even further into the night.
“We battled till the end,” Ruwaldt said.
Trailing 10-7 and still shaking off the shock after being one out away from a 7-5 win, Schellenbarger walked to start their last chance effort. Then Deacon Dietz singled behind him. It was the fourth time Dietz had been on base on the evening.
Swanson then came through, dumping in a single to right that plated Schellenbarger from second. A subsequent wild pitch got Dietz across and cut Aloha’s lead to just one run at 10-9.
One out later, Seth Volsky was grazed with a fastball with one out to reach base before Kellen Desbiens flew out to right. Three heavy fastballs from Aloha closer Preston Sheets later and the umpire was pulling the string while the Warriors walked away happy.
Kelso was left to lick its wounds, which were ultimately minor.
“I’ve never seen our team walk that many guys,” Foden said with a chuckle. “It happens. It’s one game. I mean, I think we’ve dropped five out of 15 this year. It’s a learning experience. Hopefully they can take care of it a little bit. Sort of a mental error there in the last inning throwing to first base. There’s definitely a couple miscues where we had plays on and guys were asleep or not 100 percent into it. And that’s just gonna come with practice.”
Kelso Premier will host Lower Columbia Baseball Club in a pair of nine-inning games on Wednesday and Friday. Both contests set to start at 6 p.m. at Rister Stadium.
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