By Scott Vanscoy (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Crane Pirates claimed the SWCL baseball title on Tuesday night when they defeated the Clever Bluejays, 5-4. The Pirates were led by senior Colton Elder, who pitched six solid innings and hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning for the win.
“It’s a great feeling to be SWCL Champs,” said Elder. “They stole it from us a few years and it just feels great to get it back, finally. Honestly, I was trying to throw strikes and let my defense play behind me. They did a great job, I was really proud of them.”
Clever’s Tyler Depee and Elder were locked in a pitcher’s duel for the first four innings with Clever scoring a lone run in the second inning without getting a hit.
“Colton Elder was just gutsy on the mound,” said Crane coach Bryan Harmon. “They’d scratch across a couple, we scratched ours back; that’s Crane-Clever if you know the history of our rivalry.”
Clever managed to scratch in another run, giving them a 2-0 lead going into the sixth inning. Things were going well for Depee but began to unravel when Elder led off the sixth inning with a walk. Two of the next three hitters got on base, then senior Brent Williams hit a double, scoring two runs for Crane and tying the game at 2-2.
Clever answered back in the bottom of the sixth with two runs of their own, with Hunter Eutsler and Nathan King getting RBIs and putting the Bluejays up 4-2. The Bluejays left two runners on base, which would later prove to be critical in this tightly contested game.
Eutsler came in relief of Depee, got the last two outs in the sixth inning and started the seventh. Crane got two bloop singles from Bryston Branstetter and Wyatt Vaught and Eutsler appeared to lose his focus. Elder took advantage of the lack of focus and grooved a down-the-middle fastball for a monster home run to left field. Crane now led 5-4 in the top of the seventh.
“When you’re behind in a baseball game by one, you need to be mentally tough,” said Clever coach Justin Snider. “We did a good job of coming back and scoring, got tied up 2-2. Hunter Eutsler came in and did a good job; that’s the first time he’s pitched in two weeks, he’s been battling shoulder tightness. Hopefully, he can come back tomorrow and feel ok.”
Williams came in relief for Elder in the bottom of the seventh, where he struck out two, gave up one hit, and clenched the SWCL title for the Pirates.
“Elder’s homerun… oh my,” said Harmon, “I’m double duty-ing trying to get the guy on third to tag up, just in case, plus I’m trying to tell the ball to get out of here. I really had no doubt off the bat but you never know, you’ve got to get those runners tagging, just in case. The wind didn’t help that ball, it would have cut through a wind blowing in, I think. He only gave them four hits; he had two until the sixth inning and then Brent Williams came in and slammed the door. He got some good hitters out, three of their top four.”
Snider’s Bluejays are struggling with consistency at a crucial time in the season.
“It was a good game, but we are not playing well right now,” said Snider. “We are so inconsistent with the mental aspects of the game. Tonight, we pitched really well until the fifth, and then didn’t hit, and then all of a sudden we started hitting but then stopped pitching. It is frustrating; missing cutoff guys, pitchers leaving balls down the middle. We are in the part of the schedule, now, where we are playing good teams and if you leave a ball down the middle it’s going to get hit hard, and it did tonight. We just got outplayed. If it doesn’t get fixed, the season is going to end early. If it does get fixed, we could win the District.”
For Harmon, this Conference title was a settling of the score now that Clever is leaving the Conference.
“This is the last ever Conference game we are going to play each other because they are going out. It’s for Conference championship, and we just came up huge with the bat. Bragging rights on the line, we’ll take it.”
Crane 5, Clever 4
Crane 000 002 3 — 5
Clever 010 012 0 — 4