By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. A coin, for example, played a huge part in the Class 6A regional Saturday at Couch Park.
“You never think a toss of the coin is that important sometimes,” Stillwater High School baseball coach Tony Holt said. “You usually don’t worry about it until you get in a tie game. Then you start to think, ‘Well, I sure wish we were the home team.’”
A little spare change may have contributed to the Stillwater High School baseball team’s season-ending 4-3 loss to Mustang, but it was a different type of spare change that played the biggest factor for the Pioneers.
Four times Stillwater (18-12) had a runner in scoring position with less than one out through the first five innings against Mustang starter Chris Gibbons. Four times they came up empty.
“We just couldn’t move the runners over,” Stillwater senior Nate Jolliff said, fighting back the tears. “That’s a good pitcher over there that they threw at us. It was just hard.”
Even when the Pioneers did manage to scratch across the tying run on Taylor Throne’s sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh, it was Gibbons again who delivered the final blow — a one-out single with the bases loaded to win the game.
“The kids gave a great effort and it was just a struggle all day for us,” Holt said. “Gibbons is good. He’s good on the mound and he’s good at the plate. We already faced him and he’s one of the best pitchers around. He made it tough on us all day and then he had the key hit at the end.”
Mustang (24-13) struck first as the normally solid Stillwater defense had some uncharacteristic problems. After singling to lead off the bottom of the third, Shannon Kyle took second thanks to a balk. It looked like Stillwater starter Gunner Black might get out of the jam with a strikeout and a flyout, but Stillwater’s first error of the inning allowed Kyle to score.
Another single set the table for Cole Williams. Williams didn’t have to hit it hard — hitting a high chopper back to the mound — but Black was unable to come up with it as Mason Stasyszen scored to give Mustang a 2-0 lead after three innings.
“The first two runs they had were probably unearned,” Holt said. “We gave them two in the inning there with those two errors, but overall I thought Gunner did a good job.”
The Pioneers continued to have their chances as Harrison Cornforth led off the top of the fifth with a single before Michael Higgins sacrificed him to second. Cornforth then took third on a wild pitch, but that’s where he stayed as Stillwater couldn’t get the ball out of the infield.
“That’s always frustrating,” Holt said. “It’s frustrating when you do have opportunities against a good pitcher because you usually don’t get many. But give Gibbons some credit. He made some key pitches to get us out in those situations. We know we had our chances. We just weren’t able to come up with a big hit there.”
Dodging one bullet, the Broncos added to their lead in the top of the fifth as Austin Roberts recorded his second single of the game. Cole Williams then drove Roberts in with an RBI double to the right centerfield gap. Black did manage to get out of a jam with runners on the corners, but by then the damage had been done.
The Pioneers finally got on the board as Jolliff walked and Throne reached on an error. After another walk to Will Pendleton loaded the bases before a wild pitch scored Jolliff. Another balk — this one charged to Austin Billot, who came on to relieve Gibson — brought in Ryan Hoecker, who was running for Throne for Stillwater’s second run and trimmed Mustang’s lead to 3-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
“I absolutely knew I was going,” Jolliff said. “I saw that ball get in the dirt. The catcher went to block it and it just scooted right by, so I took off.”
Stillwater’s offense continued to have some success against Billot as Mustang’s defense struggled to make plays behind him. With the bases loaded and only one out, Throne roped a liner to left that was just deep enough to score Carson Teel from third and it looked like the tide had turned.
But like the coin flip before the game, the game turned once again for the Pioneers as T.J. Black hit Stasyszen before back to back singles by Roberts and Spencer Tillman set up Gibbon’s game-winner.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the effort of our kids,” Holt said. “It wasn’t good conditions for anything, but they didn’t let the weather or anything else affect them. We did what we had to do to get back in the game, but they just did what they had to do to win it.”
Gunner Black allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks to earn a no decision. T.J. Black (0-2) took the loss, allowing just the one run on three hits over the final two innings.
Harrison Cornforth led the charge for Stillwater’s offense, going 1-for-1 with two walks, while Teel, Jolliff and Hoecker scored all of Stillwater’s runs.