By Brad Morris
Sometimes one game can be the microcosm of a season.
The Circleville baseball team has proven it can play with the best teams in the area, including taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh on Friday against Liberty Union, the fourth ranked team in the state in Division III.
But, down to its final out, Liberty Union pushed across a pair of unearned runs to defeat the host Tigers 2-1 in a Mid-State League Buckeye Division game.
“Our guys have the ability to play with anyone around here, especially when we follow the game plan and execute on the little things,” Circleville coach Brian Bigam said. “One of the things that is holding us back from being more consistent is our mental toughness.
“When a player makes a mistake in the field or has a bad at-bat, that’s baseball. You have to move on from that and do better the next time. We also need to believe in our ability to be successful and want the baseball or the bat in our hands in a crucial situation. Those are the things that we need to do if we want to take the next step as a team and hopefully get some momentum going into the tournament.”
Colton Hutchison opened the seventh by drawing a walk and Cayden Carroll followed with a single to right.
Circleville relief pitcher Carsen Cox bounced back to retire John Edwards on an infield fly out to shortstop Scott Moats and took the out when Austin Ety bunted the runners over for the second out of the inning.
Louisville signee Jacob Miller then grounded out to second, but an error allowed both runners to score and gave the Lions their first lead of the game at 2-1.
Nick Burns led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to left, but Miller struck out the next two batters and pinch-runner Drew Thornsley was thrown out trying to steal second to end the game.
The win, combined with a Teays Valley (10-5, 6-4) loss to Hamilton Township, allowed the Lions (15-1, 10-1) to clinch no worse than a share of the league title.
Miller, whose fastball was clocked as high as 97 MPH on Friday by a number of Major League Baseball scouts who were checking out the Liberty Union senior for the upcoming draft, was as good as advertised. He checked the Tigers to two hits, an unearned run, walked none and struck out 17. He threw 96 pitches, 71 for strikes, and started 18 of the 24 batters he faced with a first-pitch strike.
The Lions threatened to score first in the fourth inning when they loaded the bases with one out. Burns retired the next two LU batters on an infield fly and strike out swinging to end the threat.
Nolan West reached on an error to open the home fourth and stole second. Burns then singled to center on a 1-2 pitch to drive in West and give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Liberty Union attempted to tie the game in the sixth with runners on first and second with one out, but Cox struck out the next batter he faced and then coaxed a fly out to center to end the threat.
Burns, who had both hits for the Tigers, also threw the first four innings. He allowed five hits, walked none and struck out five. Cox tossed the final three frames, allowing two hits and a pair of unearned runs. He walked three and struck out two.
“Nick had an amazing game and he’s been doing good things for us all season,” Bigam said. “Nick put together a couple of nice at-bats and then threw a nice game.
“We played Logan Elm (on Thursday) to complete a suspended game, so we threw both Nick and Carsen for what would have been a bullpen session. We wanted to watch their pitches today, so Nick threw three pretty solid innings. He got into a little trouble in the fourth, but he made some big pitches to get out of it.”
The Tigers (9-9, 6-5) continue league play on Monday at Teays Valley.