The Rockingham County Cougars made Farm Bureau Invitational and team history on Wednesday night when they bested the Grimsley Whirlies, winning in the opening round for the first time.
A pitchers’ duel ensued on First National Bank Field from the first pitch ‘til the last.
Through the first two innings, both starters cruised through the line-ups.
The Cougars’ starter, Brandon Leonard, ran into trouble in the third inning when the Whirlies reached on an error. The Whirlie runner was eventually drove in by Gus Hughes to give Grimsley a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.
Following the Grimsley run, the Cougars’ first batter reached on an error, moved to second on a wild pitch, then was bunted to third. Head coach George Barber knew it was going to take something different to get the run in and called a suicide squeeze. The team executed to tie the game.
The coach wanted to do something different when he put on the squeeze.
“I wanted to catch them off guard,” Barber said. “I think we did. My guys executed perfectly.”
After Grimsley got their lead-off batter on in the bottom of the fourth inning by way of the walk, Barber went to his ace Coby Ingle.
“We had a thought that after Brandon Leonard gave us a couple of innings that if it was tied or we were winning we were going to go to Coby, and that’s what we did,” Barber said of his pitching strategy.
Ingle dominated, going 5 innings, striking out 13, walking only one, and giving up a mere two hits.
One of those hits came from Zach McRae, a leadoff triple in the bottom of the sixth inning. Although McRae was just 90 feet away with no out, the Whirlies were unable to get him across the plate. Instead of the Whirlies going into the top of the seventh with the lead; the score remained tied.
Grimsley’s starting pitcher Jake Bloss kept his team in the game while pitching a no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings. Bloss then retired the next two batters and was able to give his team a chance for victory.
Bloss battled all night, but when the game went to extra innings, his command began to falter. He walked the first batter of the eighth inning and after an error on a stolen base by the Grimsley shortstop kept the runner from being called out, he advanced to third on a hit to left field by Coby Ingle. Ingle’s hit brought up senior Jonathan Todd. Todd battled Bloss to a full-count, and with two strikes, he hit a fly ball to left field to plate the winning run.
Ingle struck out the side in the bottom of the eighth to seal the victory for the Cougars.
“I was just trying to command the zone and throw all my pitches for strikes,” a cool Coby Ingle said.
Jonathan Todd thought about his previous at-bats against Bloss going into the matchup in the eighth.
“He had been throwing me off-speed stuff to start the count earlier in the game, but he surprised me with a fastball,” Todd said of the first pitch in the eighth inning at-bat. “When it got down to (3-2) I choked up, spread my legs, and hit a fly ball to left field.”
Grimsley head coach Simmons challenged his team at the beginning of the game to focus and dial in every pitch.
“I think we did that,” Simmons said. “It just didn’t work out our way. I don’t think we could’ve played any better with the exception of another hit, but you can’t count on that all the time. You’re just not going to hit somedays.”
The Grimsley skipper sung the praises of his starter.
“Jake Bloss has been that way for us all year. He competes, finds ways to get outs when he needs them, and had a great performance tonight. I can’t say enough about him.”
Bloss pitched 7 1/3 innings, had 10 strikeouts, issued 5 walks, gave up one hit, two runs, and one earned run
Grimsley drops to 10-10 on the season with the loss.
Rockingham County improves to 15-3 overall with the win.