By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It wasn’t that Stillwater High School junior Gunner Black pitched bad — far from it actually. It’s just that Mustang’s Chris Gibbons pitched better.
Gibbons struck out 13 Stillwater hitters as the Pioneers opened the Stillwater Invitational with a 3-0 loss to the Broncos on Thursday at Couch Park.
“I thought (Gibbons) was outstanding, to be honest with you,” Stillwater coach Tony Holt said. “I was frustrated that we didn’t do better offensively, but you have to give him some credit. He’s a good pitcher. He threw a lot of breaking pitches for strikes — threw a lot of breaking pitches early in the count — but the biggest mistake we made was that we probably let too many good fastballs go early in the count. ... I don’t care if Nolan Ryan is out there, 13 strikeouts is too many. You’re going to have a tough time winning if you have 13 Ks and four errors.”
There were plenty of mistakes made on both sides as the teams combined for five errors. But it was the mental and physical mistakes that hurt the Pioneers (12-8) as they saw their three-game winning streak snapped.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Holt said. “We had four errors defensively and some other things that weren’t errors that could have been. They were mental errors. We didn’t play a clean game by any stretch, but we still had chances.”
Stillwater’s woes started in the first inning when Jon Littell was picked off first with a runner on second for the third out.
“It was a ball in the dirt and I think he thought there were two outs,” Holt said. “It was just a mistake. He’s a good player and you see players in the major leagues make mistakes every day. They’re just magnified in a 0-0 ballgame.”
Despite Stillwater’s inability to execute offensively, Black continued to work out of trouble in the second inning. With two outs, Mustang loaded the bases with two singles and a fielder’s choice before Black induced a groundout back to the mound to end the inning.
“It was tough,” Black said. “You’re wanting to not let them get any runners on. You’re just trying to hold them back and hope your team can give you a chance to win the game.”
Mustang eventually struck first as a walk and error put runners on the corners with no outs. But unlike the previous four innings, Black was unable to get out of trouble as Cole Williams doubled to center to plate the game’s first two runs. Williams was then thrown out at third trying to stretch the double into a triple, helping Black limit the damage.
“I left a fastball up,” Black said. “It was supposed to be inside. The same thing happened to me in Arizona. It’s just something that happens.”
With Will Fowler on in relief of Black, Mustang tacked on another run in the top of the seventh as Landon Vodka led off the inning with a one-out double. Two batters later Austin Roberts drove Vodka home with a double, extending the Broncos’ lead to 3-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Stillwater had its chances to close the gap in the seventh as pinch hitter Brooks Zimmerman singled and Nathan Jolliff walked. But with two outs, Littell couldn’t handle Gibbons’ inside pitch, striking out to end the game.
Jolliff led the way for the Pioneers offensively, going 2-for-3 with a walk. Littell also went 1-for-4 with a double.
Black went five innings, allowing two runs on five hits and a walk. He also struck out three batters.
“We wanted to get him a start,” Holt said. “He’s come in some long relief situations and some tough situations, and he’s shown the ability to have guts. He has a mentality of just keep coming and he showed us today what he showed us all year. He’s a bulldog on the mound and he gave us a chance to win.”
Stillwater was scheduled to face Midwest City at noon Friday at Couch Park. They will face Union at 11 a.m. Saturday in the final game of the tournament.
Mustang 5, Muskogee 3
In a game dominated by pitching and small ball, it was Mustang’s Jayland Rodriguez came up with the big hit — ripping a one-out double off the left field wall that scored Chris Gibbons, to help the Broncos pick up their second win in the tournament with a 5-3 win over the Roughers in the nightcap.
After Mustang took an early 3-0 lead after the first two innings, Muskogee battled back to tie the game at three, thanks in large part to Harris Jones’ single.
But the Broncos pitchers were just too much for the roughers to handle as Jacob Rateliff and Mason Stasyszen allowed four hits and struck out 10 — including seven by Stasysen over the final 4.1 innings to get the win.