By Scott Schlaufman
STEELE, N.D. — Early Sunday afternoon the players of the Valley City Babe Ruth baseball team seemed plenty frustrated.
The root of it was simple. For four innings the team went nearly out-for-out with Oakes before a defensive struggle in the fifth and sixth innings ended the game with a 6-0 loss that put the team on the verge of elimination from the District 6 tournament in Steele.
But after a five hour break that gave many players a chance to relax in Bismarck, the team came back and won its first elimination game 19-2 over Edgeley to keep its state tournament hopes alive.
"We live to fight another day, another game," said Valley City coach Lance Lukes. "It put us in a tough hole where we need to win five games to get where we want to go. We've got the first one out of the way."
The team continues the tournament today with an elimination game against LaMoure at 3 p.m. The winner of the 3 p.m. game will play again at 5:30 against the loser of a game between Oakes and Steele game scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
The tournament started Saturday, when Valley City got a 6-4 opening-round win over Linton.
In the win, Valley City allowed one run from Linton to open the game, but took the lead with two runs in the third inning, one each in the fourth and fifth, then had two more in the sixth to take a lead the team never let up.
Valley City had contributions throughout the order, with one run each scored by the first four players in the order. Shortstop Alex Milender also had two runs from the ninth-spot in the order.
“This was a game that showed our depth in our lineup," Lukes said. "The bottom part of our lineup came up big for us and provided a good spark.”
Jordan Maguson led Valley City with two hits, including a double, and three runs batted in. Nate Rodriguez threw a complete game with eight strikeouts and only three hits allowed.
It was pitching dominance that continued early into the 6-0 loss to Oakes when Valley City pitcher Jesse Johnson held opposing hitters at bay for four innings.
In those first four innings, it was a bonafide pitchers duel as Johnson allowed only two hits and his opposition, Oakes' Bryce Meehl, allowed none in the same time span.
A mix of it was hard pitching on both sides, while Johnson's defenders also made some slick plays, including a leaping catch by Rodriguez on a line drive over third base to open the bottom of the second inning. It was a catch that Oakes' third base coach applauded and the field's public address announcer commented on as Rodriguez came down with the ball.
Oakes eventually cracked Valley City's shell in the fifth inning.
It started when Johnson walked the opening batter. The next reached on a bunt that led to a bad throw that was dropped at first base. The third batter reached on a single.
The first batter was then driven in on a ground ball that Rodriguez bobbled slightly, which allowed all the runners to reach. Meehl then doubled to deep right field , which scored two more and made it 3-0.
The next batter hit a sacrifice fly that drove in a run on a close play at the plate. However, the runner left early and was called out on appeal. No more runs scored in the inning, but Oakes added three more in the bottom of the sixth as insurance.
Of the six runs that his team allowed, only three counted as earned for Johnson, who finished the game with nine strikeouts.
Meehl remained dominant throughout the game and allowed only two hits.
He continually got ahead in counts and then tripped up Valley City's hitters with breaking pitches. He eventually finished the game with 12 strikeouts.
"He was a good pitcher," said Magnuson, one of two players to get hits in both games. "You can't really beat that."
Milender was the only other player to get hits in both games.
The game's conclusion gave the players five hours off before the start of the 19-2 win over Edgeley.
Magnuson said the team wasn't focused on the threat of elimination, but instead just relaxed and focused on playing well.
The results came as the team picked up nine walks and 11 hits, then capitalized with aggressive base running on five passed balls. Valley City also had five stolen bases.
It got started in the first inning when Ben Baasch and Rodriguez walked walked. It was followed by three straight singles by Jacob Miller, Johnson and Magnuson. All five eventually scored.
Valley City then scored one in the second and put together an eight-run third and five-run fourth to put it away.
Baasch finished the game with four walks and was one of four players with three runs scored. Rodriguez, Milender and Johnson also scored three runs. Magnuson led the team with four hits.
Of the 11 players that took the field for Valley City, all but one scored in the game.
Miller pitched a complete game and allowed only six hits with five strikeouts.