By Josh Brown
TROY — Coming in at 12-0, Butler had already been in a number of do-or-die situations against good teams — and came out on top every time.
And while Troy made a few clutch defensive plays against the Aviators Monday, there was little the Trojans could do to get off their heels.
Butler (13-0, 5-0 Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division) starter Mitch Gremling got out of every tough position the Trojans put him in, while the Aviators took advantage of every little thing Troy gave them in a five-run third inning and handed the Trojans a 7-0 loss Monday.
Still, the Trojans (8-5, 3-2 GWOC North) had opportunities, and they also took opportunities away from Butler.
“As much as that one inning killed us, we did fight and claw the other six innings,” Troy baseball coach Ty Welker said. “The two innings they scored one run in, they had the chance to get more and we got out of it. It’s just that the kids don’t understand the magnitude of some situations right now. And we don’t understand the magnitude of those situations just from a lack of being in them.”
Early in the game, it appeared like one run could make all the difference.
After Troy starter Jared Bair left Butler runners stranded on first and second in the top of the first, Hayden Kotwica led off the bottom of the inning with a single — and quickly advanced to third on an errant pickoff throw by the Aviator catcher, still with no outs. Given three chances to get Kotwica home, though, Troy could not as Gremling struck out the next three batters to get out of trouble.
“I don’t know how many guys got in scoring position with no outs, and none of them scored,” Welker said. “We’ve got to be the kind of team that does anything to put the ball in play and get those guys home. Right now, it’s completely out of our mindset — but it’s not out of our reach. We do have the ability to do it, and we practice it every day. We just have to execute.”
In the top of the second, Bair made a huge defensive play to keep the game scoreless. After Noah Ballard bunted for a hit and went all the way to third on an errant throw on the play to lead off the inning, Bair struck out the next batter to bring up Torin Fletcher, who attempted to drop down a squeeze bunt. Bair pounced on it, using his glove to flip the ball to catcher Tyler Lambert to record the out at the plate. Fletcher stole second, but Bair induced a high chopper to Brandon Emery at short to get out of the inning unscathed.
Butler didn’t allow that to happen to start the third.
Dusty Lewis and Tyler Burley both drew walks on full counts to lead off the inning, then Damon Dues singled up the middle to drive in the game’s first run. Another walk to Matt Grossman loaded the bases, and Chandler Craine hit a tw0-run double to the right-center gap. An errant throw on a grounder allowed two more runs to score, and Butler held a commanding 5-0 lead.
“When you walk three guys, make an error, when you play on your heels … that’s a good team, and they’re going to take advantage of that,” Welker said.
After Troy couldn’t do anything with a leadoff walk in the bottom of the inning, Butler tacked on another run in the top of the fourth with some aggressive baserunning. Burley singled with one out, stole second and took third on a wild pitch that was also ball four to Grossman with two outs. Grossman then got caught in a rundown on a pickoff play, but that gave Burley enough of a distraction to score and give the Aviators a 6-0 lead.
“That’s just us not executing,” Welker said. “We practice that play every day. We just didn’t run it.”
All in all, Butler stole three bases and took three bases on wild pitches, in addition to working counts again and again and forcing Troy’s two pitchers to throw a combined 140 pitches on the day.
“They’ve stolen 39 bases this year. They’ve done it to everyone, not just us,” Welker said. “And they don’t strike out. There’s no pitch to get them out that way. They’re going to work counts, and that wasn’t a surprise to us. We wanted them to hit our pitch, though — and I think we got them to, also. But that’s just the kind of team they are.”
Troy had another chance with a runner in scoring position and no outs in the bottom of the fourth after a leadoff double by Bair — but again, Gremling struck out the next three batters to escape the threat. In the fifth, Troy finally put the bat on the ball with a runner in scoring position after Lambert was hit by a pitch with one out and advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches. But Gremling induced a 6-3 inning-ending double play, and it remained 6-0.
Butler got one last run in the sixth after Lewis reached on an error to lead off, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a one-out RBI groundout by Dues. But Troy reliever Nick Matney got out of a first-and-second jam to prevent any further damage — and, all told, Butler stranded nine runners on base, six in scoring position.
The Trojans hit into another double play in the sixth, but Matney and Austin Barney got back-to-back two-out singles and ran a double steal to put runners on second and third. But Aviator second baseman Lewis made a run-saving leaping catch on a line drive to preserve Gremling’s shutout — which he sealed with a one-two-three seventh to end the game.
In total, Troy was 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position in the game, with six strikeouts and one double play. Gremling finished the game with 10 strikeouts, allowing five hits, two walks and one hit-batter.
Bair took the loss for Troy, striking out three and allowing four hits, four walks, one hit-batter and six runs — four earned — in four innings of work. Matney struck out three and hit a batter, allowing three hits and one unearned run.
Troy finishes the season series against the defending GWOC North champion Tuesday.
“We’ll see what kind of attitude we come out with tomorrow,” Welker said. “Hopefully today was a learning experience.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.