By Josh Brown
TROY — All of Troy’s mistakes came back to haunt them Saturday.
A valuable lesson before tournament play starts next week.
Kenton Ridge’s Jared Van Velzor hit a two-out, three-run double in the top of the first inning and Kaleb Meeks hit a two-run double in the third as the Cougars made a series of walks and a first-inning error hurt, and while the Trojans did battle back, a mistake on the basepaths took them out of a potential big inning in a 5-3 loss in the regular season finale Saturday at Market Street Field.
The loss dropped Troy to 15-11 to finish the regular season, with the Trojans heading into Tuesday’s sectional tournament opener on a two-game losing streak — but also knowing that all of their issues are correctable.
“The good news is that the difference is us,” Troy baseball coach Ty Welker said. “We’re the ones that are going to make the difference. Once we realize that and execute the way I know we can, we’re a pretty good team.
“We control what goes on on the field. If we believe that, we’ll be fine.”
On Saturday, the Trojans simply made too many little mistakes — and Kenton Ridge (19-5) made nearly all of them count.
A walk, an error and another walk, all with out out, loaded the bases in the top of the first inning. Troy starter Jordan Peck got a strikeout and looked poised to get out of the inning, but Jared Van Velzor pulled a two-out double to the fence in left-center that cleared the bases, giving the Cougars an early 3-0 lead.
“When you give a team four outs in the first inning and they get three runs because of it, that hurts,” Welker said. “We talk all the time about executing, but a lack of execution hurt us in the first inning — and that changed the complexion of the rest of the game.”
Kenton Ridge added a pair of runs in the top of the third. Cameron Kettler singled — the only Kenton Ridge hit that didn’t drive in runs on the day — and Luke Holt drew a walk, then Kaleb Meeks hit a two-run double that made it a 5-0 game.
It was a solid day on the mound for Peck despite the loss. He pitched four innings, giving up three walks — all of which scored — striking out four and surrendering the Cougars’ only three hits in the game. Only two of the Cougars’ runs in the game were earned. Reliever Noah Roswell came in to pitch the final three innings, walking one and striking out two.
In the bottom of the third, the Trojans began to fight back.
Hayden Kotwica led off the inning with a double and stole third, then Tyler Lambert drove him in with an RBI double off the fence in left-center. After Kenton Ridge starter Drew Wichael got a groundout for the inning’s first out, Brandon Emery ripped a single down the right field line to bring in Lambert and make it a 5-2 game.
And though the Trojans threatened again in the fourth, it ended up being the game’s turning point.
Austin Barney and Alex Riedel hit back-to-back singles to start the inning and designated hitter Jake Daniel showed bunt on the first pitch he saw, but before he saw another Wichael made a move to second, catching Barney leaning the wrong way. Barney slipped, couldn’t recover in time and was picked off, and then a six-to-three double play to short ended the inning with no damage and none left on.
“He jumped the wrong way,” Welker said. “That’s just a lack of situational awareness. You’re not going to be stealing third in that situation. You can’t get picked off second there.
“Those are big situations, and in good, close games like we’ll see in the tournament, you’ve got to execute in those situations.”
Troy kept fighting, though. putting together a two-out rally in the fifth and making a Kenton Ridge error count. Drake McDonagh reached on an error with two outs and stole second, then Emery beat out an infield single — and Daniel scored all the way from first base to cut the lead to 5-3.
“The team mentality in the dugout was still good,” Welker said. “We changed our approach at the plate a little. I felt like in the first three innings, we were swinging at curves out of the zone and letting good fastballs go by. We’re a better hitting team than that. We just have to believe we are. In the last four innings, we started swinging at our pitches, not his.”
But 5-3 is where the game would stay, though. After a one-two-three sixth, Daniel led off the bottom of the seventh with a double, chasing Wichael in favor of Jordan Bailey. Bailey quickly got a flyout, a strikeout and a groundout to end the game and record a save, preserving the win for Wichael.
“He threw one strike during his warmups. We watched him throw only one strike in warmups, and then we went out and swung at the first pitch we saw out of the zone,” Welker said. “That’s not being hitters. We’ve done that throughout the year, too, and we’ve got to figure out the difference.”
The Trojans only have two days to do so, as well — they host Greenville in the first round of the Division I sectional tournament on Tuesday. The Trojans split with the Green Wave in the regular season, winning 10-1 and then falling 4-1.
“The boys earned that,” Welker said of hosting a tournament game. “We got a No. 9 seed, but we got a home game against the No. 15 seed in the first round — and we’re going to try to take advantage of that. The difference in the game will be us at the plate.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.