With the end of their season at stake on Saturday afternoon, the Concord baseball team wasn’t going to let anything get in the way — not an early start, not a rain delay, and certainly not the team that edged them out for the regular-season crown in the Mountain East Conference.
The Mountain Lions lived to fight at least one more game, beating the Shepherd Rams 5-1 at rainy Linda K. Epling Stadium and advancing to a late-night rematch with West Virginia State.
Chris Kelly threw all nine innings for Concord (38-15), mowing down the first seven Rams in order and then allowing one hit in each of the last seven innings.
A complete-game effort was his goal, the Grundy resident said. “Every time I go out, I try to go deep in games. The rain made it harder, but you’ve got to deal with it.”
Concord head coach Andrew Wright said, “He gave us an outstanding chance to win. ... He went out and threw strikes.”
Shepherd (38-12) head coach Matt McCarthy said, “We just wanted to jump out early, but their pitcher neutralized us in that.”
“We made some bone-head plays in the field. We got away from what was successful for us all year. But give them (Concord) credit. They played hard, and they got us away from our game.”
Shepherd right-hander Ryan Pansch struggled to keep the ball in the strike zone early, issuing 28 pitches before escaping the first inning with two Mountain Lions in scoring position.
Brandon Costa led off the third inning with a sharp single that zinged past a helpless Brandon Coffey at first base.
Costa put the first run on the board when he dashed home from third on the game’s only error, a ball Pansch threw away while trying to check Bret Blevins leading off of first base.
Concord padded its advantage in the next frame. Ryan Johnston began it with a single. Brad Sullivan worked through an eight-pitch at bat, ending it by lofting a breaking ball up into a breeze for an RBI double that carried to the left-field wall.
Ryan Johnston, who had singled, scored on the play. Sullivan came home on a two-out single by Brandon Costa for a 3-0 lead.
Each side tallied a run in the fifth. Concord’s Joey Miller slammed a double about 360 feet — still 20 feet short of the wall in left field. Joe Camp singled over third base to get him home.
Miller said, “I think, the second time around in our order, we were more focused at the plate and we were finding out the pitcher’s tendencies.”
Kyle Porter led off Shepherd’s half-inning with a drive into shallow left field that fell among three Concord fielders for a double. Porter tallied the Rams’ lone run on a groundout by Mark McCormick.
Shepherd turned its pitching over to Tyler Thomas for the seventh inning. Pansch was done after 116 pitches, seven hits and four runs, three of them earned. He struck out seven CU batters and walked three.
McCarthy said, “He hasn’t thrown in over a week. He recovers quick. We kept asking after every inning how he felt, was he tired, and he said no. We wanted to get him to (the seventh inning). He did that, and we went into our bullpen.”
On Thomas’ sixth pitch, Miller yanked a breaking ball over the fence for his 13th home run of the year, a solo shot that produced the game’s final run.
“He hung a breaking ball and I got a pretty good swing on it,” Miller said.
“It’s just a game of survival. We have to go one inning at a time, but one pitch at a time. You’ve got to treat every pitch like it’s a separate game, and give your best effort on every pitch.”
Miller has been “playing like a senior,” Wright said. “He goes out and gives us a chance to win, because he just trusts his ability.”
A few minutes later, a steady rain turned into a downpour and the teams left the field for 44 minutes. The drainage system under the artificial field rapidly got rid of most of the surface water.
Wright said, “We’re on turf, we’re not going to get washed out, so it’s just a matter of staying mentally focused, and go play.”
“Chris Kelly did a heck of a job of getting up and staying loose throughout (the delay), so he didn’t drop off much when we went back out.”
Kelly wound up the day by inducing eight fly-outs and one groundout, and gave up three harmless singles and a walk. Blevins recorded the last three putouts on fly balls to right field.
“It was a team win — good defense, all around,” Kelly said. “I just try to show up and treat it like another game.”
“You hit spots, and get ahead of everybody, you can beat anybody.”
Miller said, “Coach Wright has told us, it doesn’t matter what it says on the other team’s jersey. If we show up and play our style of baseball, we’re going to win the game.”
Thomas limited CU to one single after the rain delay. In three innings he gave up two hits, including Miller’s home run. He did not walk a batter and struck out four.
Costa was 2 for 3 at the plate for Concord and Miller was 2 for 5. For Shepherd, Porter went 2 for 3.
Wright was pleased that he only had to use one pitcher in the early game. He was ready to employ other arms to get through the rest of the tournament.
“At this point, where our backs are against the wall, it is a ‘whatever it takes’ kind of approach,” the coach said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a starter or reliever or somebody who hasn’t thrown much, or if it’s a second baseman. I don’t care. We’re going to find a way to win baseball games on the mound.”
Shepherd’s accomplishments already in 2014 have them convinced that they will gain one of six berths in the NCAA Division II regional playoffs next week.
McCarthy said, “We were No. 1 in the region for the last three weeks, so I like our chances of getting in. It’s just where we’re going to be in the seedings. We’ll find that out (Sunday) night.”
Concord almost certainly must win the Mountain East tournament to get into the NCAA playoffs.
Because of earlier rain delays, the matchup between Concord and West Virginia State continued into late Saturday night.
Wright was asked after Saturday’s early game if there would be any changes in strategy after State defeated CU 4-3 Friday night.
“Nope. Not at all,” the Concord coach said. “We just happened to be on the losing end of a great baseball game (Friday) night.”
Miller said, “I’m glad we get them (West Virginia State) again. We get a chance for some redemption. It’s going to be a good game.”
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Linda K. Epling Stadium
Concord.....001 210 100 — 5 9 0
Shepherd...000 010 000 — 1 7 1
Chris Kelly and Brandon Costa. Ryan Pansch, Tyler Thomas (7) and Spencer Wolfe. WP - Kelly (8-2). LP - Pansch (6-4). HR - CU, Miller, 7th, 0 on. Att - 79.