Tuesday, July 31, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Bruins ousted on close call

Leader sports editor

A controversial call ended the Sylvan Hills Bruins in the third round of the Senior American Legion state tournament at Burns Park.

Sylvan Hills lost 2-1 to Rogers in an 11-inning game played in miserable heat Sunday afternoon.

The final three innings were played with just two umpires, as one succumbed to the heat and fainted just before the start of the ninth inning.

With two outs and the bases loaded, a curveball in the dirt got past Sylvan Hills catcher Lance Hunter. Hunter retrieved the ball and threw to pitcher Conner Eller, who was covering home. Eller swung around and applied the tag, but the home plate umpire ruled that runner Austin Griffin touched the plate before the tag, ending the game and Sylvan Hills’ season.

“It was one of those bang, bang plays,” Sylvan Hills coach Brandon Eller said. “Honestly I thought the home plate umpire did a great job the whole game. There wasn’t any part of me that wanted to argue that call. I didn’t have a good look at it and in a game like that, on a bang-bang play, sometimes they go your way and sometimes they don’t.”

Conner Eller pitched all 11 innings for the Bruins and was masterful. He gave up eight base hits, but never more than one in any inning until the 11th.

“I told him that was the best I’ve seen him pitch all summer,” Brandon Eller said. “He pitched 11 innings, but he was still less than 130 on the pitch count. I knew it could be our last game and he was pitching so well. I was going to let him have it until he didn’t want it anymore.”

Rogers pitcher Zach Ste-wart carried a no hitter through seven innings, but reached his inning limit and had to yield to reliever Reed Brown in the eighth.

The Bruins threatened to score on several occasions despite not getting a hit. Several balls in play were open for interpretation as to whether or not they were hits or fielding errors, but all were counted as errors, keeping Stewart’s no hitter alive.

“We didn’t swing the bats extremely well,” Brandon Eller said. “We weren’t that bad either. We didn’t have many strikeouts but we didn’t find any holes either. We made contact the whole game. It was just all right at people.”

Sylvan Hills got its first official base hit in the ninth inning. Trailing 1-0, Hunter hit a single to left field between shortstop and third base. Dylan Boon was already on board after reaching on an error at third. Austin Spears grounded to second base to move the runners into scoring position. J.D. Miller then hit a fly ball deep to right field to score Boone and tie the game. The Bruin coach felt his team got a little bad luck on Miller’s hit.

“The wind was coming in and I really thought Miller’s hit was going to burn the right fielder. “ Brandon Eller said. “Lance almost got doubled up. We were a little unlucky that the wind held the ball up, but we were fortunate the right fielder dropped it when he was throwing it in, or Lance probably would’ve been doubled up.”

Neither team threatened to score in the 10th inning. Sylvan Hills hit the ball hard in the top of the 11th, but couldn’t get a run across the plate. Boone hit a hard line drive to centerfield that was caught.

Hunter then got his and the team’s second base hit with a single to center. Spears struck out looking and Miller hit another hard line drive to centerfield that was snagged to end the half inning.

“J.D. hit a few balls really hard, he just couldn’t find a gap with any of them,” Brandon Eller said. “Lance of course swung the bat really well. He was able to find the holes, and swung the bat really well for us all year.”

Rogers broke a scoreless game in the bottom of the seventh inning. Camden Myers led off with a single to centerfield and Eller hit Griffin to put runners on second and third with no outs.

Colin Roberts bunted to move the runners into scoring position. Stewart then hit a hard grounder to shortstop, but the ball was bobbled, leaving everyone safe and allowing Myers to score easily from third.

The Bruins finish the season with an even record at 15-15. Eller, who was an assistant coach for last year’s team, saw drastic improvement, which the record indicates.

“This team went something like 3-20 last year,” Eller said. “This year they finished second in district, qualified for state, won a game in the state tournament. Obviously I would have liked to win that last game to see what happens, but overall I’m very pleased with the progress the team made this year. At the end of the year, only one team in the whole nation wins its last game and that’s the national champion. This team accomplished a lot for Sylvan Hills baseball.”