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By Scott Schlaufman
The communication between a baseball coach and a player on the base paths can be hard to follow at times. A swipe of the shoulder. A pat on the head. Quick touch to the nose. It's subtle and used to keep an opponent off guard with hit and runs, bunts, and steals.
But in the the bottom of the seventh inning of the Valley City Babe Ruth baseball team's 10-9 win in the first game of a double header with Fargo Monday at Charlie Brown Memorial Field, VC third baseman Collin Schroeder got things mixed up on the base paths.
From first base, Schroeder, who opened the inning with a single to center field, thought he was given the steal sign and ran on the pitch. Across the diamond, coach Lance Lukes gave him and hitter Alex Milender the bunt sign, meaning Schroeder was supposed to go on contact.
The ensuing play allowed Schroeder to get a few extra steps and advance to third on the bunt before eventually scoring the game winning run on a single by Dalton Ondracek.
"It wasn't the right sign but I ran anyways and it just all turned around and worked out for us," Schroeder said.
The teams split the double header after Fargo won 9-3 in the second game.
To set up game one's winning play, Milender dropped a bunt that stayed within feet of home plate. After he took the sacrifice out at first, Schroeder had enough momentum going to beat a cross-diamond throw to third.
"If Collin waits until the ball is bunted down, he may not be able to get to third," Lukes said. "In the end, it worked out."
It was an example of the aggressive base running that caused Valley City to come back in the first game, despite trailing from the third inning until the bottom of the sixth.
Valley City finished the game with eight stolen bases, including two each from Jacob Miller and Ben Baasch.
Valley City started the game by taking a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Miller, Jesse Johnson and Baasch all reached consecutively. Miller started it with a single, advanced on a passed ball to Johnson, who walked. A single by Baasch brought in Miller. Johnson then scored on a ground out by Jordan Magnuson and Baasch scored on a single by Casey Englehard.
In the middle innings, Valley City had a hard time stopping Fargo, who had timely hitting and scored two in the second inning, then went up 6-2 in the third and held the lead until the sixth inning, keeping a two-run buffer the entire way.
In the bottom of the sixth, Valley City had a leadoff single from Miller, who stole second. Johnson was then hit by a pitch.
When Baasch laid down a bunt to move the runners, Fargo's catcher overthrew first base, which allowed Miller to score and Johnson to move to third, although Baasch was thrown out at second on the play.
Johnson scored on a triple to deep right field by Magnuson, who nearly tried for an inside the park home run before being held up while rounding third. It was one of two triples in the game for him.
Both teams finished the game with 11 hits. Schroeder, Miller, Magnuson and Casey Englehard each finished with two hits. Schroeder led his team with three runs scored.
On the mound, Magnuson threw five innings and got the win. He allowed 10 hits and nine runs, only seven earned. Johnson threw the final two innings, allowing one hit and no runs with four strikeouts.
Things didn't go nearly as smoothly in the second game, which was a 9-3 loss.
All nine allowed runs came in the third and fourth innings, all with two outs, and none of the runs were scored as earned runs for the team's pitchers.
Valley City's defense finished with eight errors, some throwing, others infield bobbles, and a few outfield balls that got past the outfielders.
"Physical errors are going to happen in a game, it's just that we've got to limit what happens with those," Lukes said.
Valley City finished the game with four hits, all from different players. Ondracek started on the mound and threw three innings, allowing five hits and five runs. Miller pitched the final two, allowing one hit and four runs.
The double header was Valley City's last of the regular season. The team will spend the rest of the week getting ready for the District 6 tournament, which starts Saturday in Steele.
Lukes said he hopes the team will go into the tournament with a certain amount of aggression having played in close games recently.
"It's a balanced tournament. (The top) one through five up there are all balanced teams," he said. "Hopefully we have a good showing there and we can put a few games together."