By KEVIN HARRIS
LOUISVILLE – The Jeffersonville Red Devils went 3-2 in arguably the most challenging week of their 2017 schedule last week. And it could have easily been 4-1.
Jeff came really close to getting that fourth victory last Saturday at Bobby Green Field, as it lost to five-time Kentucky state champion Pleasure Ridge Park 3-2.
The Red Devils (7-7) began last week with a 13-5 home loss to Class 2A No. 3 and defending 2A state champion Providence on April 24.
Jeff, though, bounced back by winning three games in a row. After defeating visiting North Harrison last Tuesday in five innings 16-1, the host Red Devils stunned Louisville St. Xavier, the second-ranked squad in Kentucky, last Thursday at Don Poole Field 5-1.
Then last Friday, Jeff pulled off another upset by downing Class 3A No. 1 Jasper at Poole Field 8-2.
“(Last) week, if we were .500, that’s a pretty good achievement,” Red Devil head coach Derek Ellis said. “You saw who we were playing. There are no cupcakes on our schedule.”
Ellis says there is one primary reason why his program plays a difficult slate – to prepare for one of the most competitive Class 4A sectionals in Indiana. This year’s sectional will be hosted by Hoosier Hills Conference rival Bedford North Lawrence.
“That’s why we play these guys. That’s why you play a tough schedule, so we’ll be ready for sectional,” Ellis said.
A key defensive play by Jeff left fielder Drew Taylor provided the Red Devils some momentum in the bottom of the third inning against PRP.
Panther sophomore catcher Jarrett Troklus led off the frame with an opposite-field double off Red Devil starter Jacob Cochrum. PRP’s Luke Creech, who came in as a courtesy runner for Troklus, got sacrificed to third base by teammate Dalton Smith.
The next batter, junior Noah McDonald, flied out to Taylor in left. Creech attempted to score, but Taylor threw a missile to Red Devil catcher Jackson Kruer to complete the double play and end the inning.
Ellis said Taylor redeemed himself on the assist after making a defensive miscue earlier in the contest.
“It was a big play. I think he had some adrenaline going because of the ball he missed earlier,” Ellis said. “That was a big make-up, so we’ll take that.”
The Panthers (20-2) took a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Third baseman Nick Rucker smacked a one-out double that reached the left-field fence, driving in junior Reed Blaszczyk from second.
The Red Devils responded with a pair of scores in the top of the fifth to grab a 2-1 advantage.
With one out, Taylor singled to left off PRP starter Dallas Glass and proceeded to steal second. That was followed by junior second baseman Bailey Falkenstein drilling an RBI double off the left-field fence to plate Taylor and tie the contest at one.
After Ethan English struck out swinging, senior designated hitter Cam Northern launched his own one-run double that banged off the left-field fence to plate pinch-runner Nick Grider from second.
“I liked our momentum at that point,” Ellis said. “I was pretty proud of those guys (Falkenstein and Northern) for the way they swung it. Cameron struck out his previous two times and we were thinking about possibly hitting somebody for him and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted my senior to go up (to the plate) and he proved why he’s one of our best players. He got behind in the count like he was all day, but he battled and hit the ball off the wall. And Bailey before him put a great swing on the ball.”
In the bottom of the sixth, the Panthers deadlocked the score at two on a questionable decision by the umpires.
With runners at second and third with no outs, junior first baseman Matt Cavanaugh laid down a squeeze bunt. Blaszczyk headed to home plate from third and slid safely under Kruer’s tag.
However, the Jeff coaches argued that Cavanaugh, who was subbed for earlier in the game, did not report back into the game to the umpires prior to his at-bat and should be called out. Therefore, the run would not count.
The umpires ruled that Cavanaugh was out, but they still counted the run and kept the game tied.
“They allowed the run because they said they were completely unsure of that rule,” Ellis said. “The umpires did a pretty decent job. But on that particular play, the rule is he’s out and the guy on third goes back.”
The Panthers took the lead for good on the next at-bat. Designated hitter Dylan Carnes hit a fly ball to right. Rucker tagged up at third and just beat the throw home.
The Red Devils got runners on first and second in the top of the seventh against PRP reliever Bryce Phillips, who got relieved by David Aguilar. But Jeff’s Jack Ellis ended the game by flying out to center off Aguilar.
“We were a break or two away from winning the ballgame,” Derek Ellis said. “We’ve been swinging the bats pretty well and we hit it. We just didn’t get some timely hits early and left some guys on base. We left some guys on base here that probably should’ve gotten in. This was a test and it came down to the last.”
Taylor was the only multihit Red Devil, going 2-for-4 with a run scored. Cochrum pitched a complete game as his record dropped to 2-3. He allowed three runs (all earned) on seven hits with a strikeout and no walks.
“Overall, I like the way we’re playing the last three games, even this game despite not coming out with the victory,” Coach Ellis said. “There were a lot of positives to take away from this. We’re going to walk out of here with a lot of positives because we did a lot of things well today.”
PLEASURE RIDGE PARK 3, JEFFERSONVILLE 2
Jeff 000 020 0-2 8 2
PRP 000 102 x-3 7 0
W – Bryce Phillips. L – Jacob Cochrum (2-3). S – David Aguilar. 2B – Bailey Falkenstein (J), Cam Northern (J), Nick Rucker 2 (PRP), Noah McDonald (PRP).
Records – Jeff 7-7, PRP 20-2.