By Brian Paglia
GRIFFIN -- After all that Dutchtown's baseball team had overcome this season -- the graduation of talented players, the injuries to key starters, the transition to new head coach Michael Breedlove -- the Bulldogs came into Friday's night game against Griffin with its playoff hopes very much alive.
But Dutchtown couldn't overcome issuing seven walks and timely hitting by Griffin in a 13-8 defeat to the Bears in a Region 4-AAAA game. The loss eliminated Dutchtown from the playoffs, breaking the Bulldogs' two-year streak of going to the state tournament.
"I felt we were ready to play, we just didn't make enough plays," Breedlove said. "We had too many walks, too many errors, too many mental mistakes on the base paths. But, take all that into consideration, because we played extremely hard. I don't think we lost. I think (Griffin) won the game."
With a win, Dutchtown (11-14, 8-7) and Griffin (12-8, 10-5) would have pulled into a tie for the fourth and final playoff spot, with the tie going to the Bulldogs by virtue of their 6-2 win over the Bears earlier this season.
Dutchtown fell behind quickly and had to play catch-up for the rest of the game. But they did. With the game tied at 2 going into the top of the third inning, Dutchtown scored four runs on three hits, a walk and hit batter to chase Griffin starter Jacoby Beckham and take a 4-2 lead.
It would be Dutchtown's last. Griffin's first three batters reached base against Dutchtown starting pitcher Trey Nelson in the bottom of the third. An RBI single by Jay Bradley and two-run hit by Jeremy Holcomb gave Griffin a 5-4 lead.
Nelson struggled through 4 1/3 innings. He allowed the leadoff man to reach in each of the five innings he started. Four times that runner eventually scored. He walked six.
"That was the difference," Breedlove said. "You can't have six or seven walks ... It made it difficult."
Said Nelson: "It's hard to pitch when there's always runners on base. It rattled me a little bit."
With Griffin leading 7-5, Nelson walked his fifth batter to start the bottom of the fifth inning. Victor Gamble reached on a bunt back to Nelson. Two batters later, Nelson left after walking Tyler Powell to load the bases.
Breedlove brought in freshman Manuel Corrales to face Beckham, whose older brother, Tim, was the first player chosen in the 2008 MLB Draft. On Corrales' first pitch, Beckham hit a triple that took one bounce before it hit the outfield wall in rightcenter.
Beckham was alone on third and Griffin had a comfortable 11-5 lead.
"We battled back," Breedlove said, "but, yea, that gave them the cushion they needed to relax and make some plays."
Indeed, Dutchtown scored three in the top of the sixth on a triple by Aaron Downing (1-for-2), a single by Nelson (2-for-3) and a wild pitch. The Bulldogs' dugout erupted in elation and optimism with Griffin's lead down to 11-8.
If only there was no leadoff man in baseball, for the sixth and last time, Griffin's first batter reached base. The Bears would score two more and reliever Theo Tramontana set Dutchtown down 1-2-3 in the seventh.
"I was happy that we fought hard the entire time instead of giving up," Nelson said. "We just came up a little short."