'Cats rally late, fall short again
"Our greatest foes, and whom we must chiefly combat, are within."
SLATER -- The immortal words of Miguel de Cervantes' title character in "Don Quixote" aptly describes Slater's main difficulty on the baseball diamond.
Fits of hubris put the Wildcats in a hole, and helped keep them there, during Thursday's 20-17 home loss to Brunswick -- a contest which saw the Purple get within striking range after falling behind by 11 runs.
"I still don't know that we've been beat this year," noted Slater head coach Tom Doherty about his squad's ability to self-destruct. "We're not playing as a team and trusting each other."
Junior shortstop Dustin Hays' attendance at a basketball banquet hurt the 'Cats. Still, even a couple of first-inning miscues attributable to Hays' absence could have been overcome if not for John Jackson's meltdown on the mound.
The junior right-hander turned a bad situation into a disaster by contributing seven walks and a hit batter to two early errors, and openly begging to be yanked, to give the visiting Wildcats seven runs before Slater ever came to bat. He compounded the situation by sitting sullenly outside the dugout, walking to and from his new position in center field -- from where at least he threw out a runner at the plate -- and generally sulking until his teammates began their late charge.
"Pitchers are afraid to throw strikes because of an error, then come the walks, which puts the defense into a deeper slumber," Doherty explained. "It just snowballed."
Fortunately for the Purple 'Cats, junior Andy Boggs was willing to shoulder the load. Although he couldn't shut down Brunswick, he limited the opponent to two earned runs over the next four innings.
"He understands the game well enough to know that if you throw strikes, most of the time good things will happen," Doherty said. "He threw strikes, and by throwing strikes he allowed us the chance to stay in the game."
That was critical, for -- down 12-2 and facing early elimination heading into the bottom of the fifth -- Slater fought back. With walks loading the bases, senior Maclyn Durham stepped up with two outs and drove a blast to the roof of the ag pavilion beyond the center-field fence for a grand slam. After another free pass, senior Jeff Pittman doubled in a run.
Two walks and senior Michael Hamilton's school-record 28th career homer eventually chased Boggs. Durham got a pair of quick outs, but then a bloop single by sophomore Josh Swan began another sequence where emotion overcame sense. Five walks, two with the bases loaded, and senior Jared Smith's RBI single bumped the Red Wildcats' lead back to 12 runs.
That still didn't kill the 'Cats, who scored nine runs in the bottom of the sixth on three passes, five boots and four hits. Jackson knocked in a run with a double and Durham plated another with a triple. Junior Chas Harris smashed a two-run double into the gap and scored on sophomore Dontrale White's single.
An error helped Brunswick (1-4) to a run in the seventh and Hamilton -- who had already gone three for three with six RBIs at the plate -- finally stopped the Purple comeback, Durham singling and coming around on muffs, with three strikeouts.
Durham had three hits and five RBIs to lead Slater at the plate, but there was no take-charge leader to help calm down the 'Cats (0-3) when things went awry at the start. However, most of the team kept hustling and eventually showed they had the talent to win, if not yet the maturity.
"We can't keep getting down on ourselves, or else we have to start from scratch every game," said Doherty, who hopes to see some progress Saturday at the Madison Tournament.
"Physically, we're ready," he declared. "If we get a little mental toughness, we'll have a tougher team. But it starts with discipline."