By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — Tippecanoe baseball coach Bruce Cahill, coaching at third base, and the Red Devils’ Justyn Eichbaum noticed that Northwestern’s catcher was very deliberate with his tosses back to the pitcher between pitches.
And when he saw his chance, Eichbaum caught the Warriors’ catcher napping and stole home on one of those tosses.
There’s a reason Tippecanoe is 15-1 this season and ranked No. 1 in Division II in the newest Miami Valley Baseball Coaches Association poll.
The Devils bunted runners over, took the extra base every time Northwestern gave it to them on the basepaths, stole seven bases — and even jumped on an ill-timed balk for two runs — taking advantage of nearly every opportunity they created for themselves in an 8-1 Central Buckeye Conference crossover victory over the Warriors Thursday at Tippecanoe Middle School.
But good teams are always trying to get better.
“We’re good enough to win games, but every day we see something that we can work on and improve on in practice,” Cahill said. “Our record is good, but we still make a lot of mistakes that last year’s team may not have. The MVBCA has us No. 1, PBR has us No. 2 in the state and the state poll is coming out next week, but I don’t think we’re there yet. We can still get better.”
Don’t tell that to Northwestern (7-8).
After a leadoff single by Cameron Johnson, a sacrifice bunt and a walk to Ben Hughes to start the bottom of the first, Northwestern’s pitcher was called for a balk to move both runners into scoring position. And B.J. Donathan wasted no time, driving a single to the opposite field to bring both runs in and give Tipp a 2-0 lead. And despite leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the second, Eichbaum’s steal of home earlier in the inning gave the Devils a little insurance.
“Our guys that are supposed to be hitting are hitting well, and that’s a good thing,” Cahill said. “We had some funky at-bats today, but we did have some pretty big hits at key times.”
And it seemed like they would need it, too. A leadoff double and RBI single kicked off the Northwestern half of the third, and the Warriors loaded the bases with one out. But Tipp starter Logan Dawes got a pop to short and then a flyout to left to get out of trouble.
He was right back in trouble in the top of the fourth, though. After recording the first two outs, an error, a walk and a bloop single loaded the bases again, and Dawes gave way to Austin Clack — who induced a groundout to short to leave the bases juiced for the second straight inning.
“When it was 3-1, it was a little worrisome,” Cahill said. “They loaded the bases with one out and their best two hitters up, but Logan did a nice job getting that pop to short and the flyout to get out of that. He just doesn’t have that putaway pitch, and they kept fouling off pitches and staying alive, but he made a couple of big pitches to get out of that jam.
“When they loaded them again the next inning, I had to make a change. He was at about 85 pitches, so it was a good time, and Austin did a nice job.”
Clack pitched through the sixth and got out of trouble in each the fifth and sixth innings, leaving two runners stranded apiece. All told, Northwestern left 12 runners on base and simply couldn’t capitalize on its chances.
Tipp, meanwhile, put the game away with four runs in the bottom of the fourth. A leadoff hit-by-pitch, a walk and a series of wild pitches allowed Zack Blair to drive in a run with a groundout, then Hughes followed with an RBI single — alertly taking second on the play as Northwestern was slow getting the ball back to the infield. After a strikeout for the second out, an errant throw to first base brought Hughes in to score, and Brad Calhoun finished off the inning with an RBI single to make it 7-1.
The Devils added another run in the bottom of the sixth on an error, then Blair came in to pitch the seventh and threw the only one-two-three inning for either team on the day, setting down the Warriors in order on only eight pitches to end the game.
Tippecanoe puts its 11-game winning streak on the line in a doubleheader Saturday at Olentangy Liberty, followed by a big series on Monday and Tuesday against Bellefontaine, which currently sits in second place in the CBC Kenton Trail Division behind the Devils.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.