In baseball, it’s common for victories to come due to clutch hitting.
It’s far more rare to hear of wins coming from clutch defense.
But Wasilla’s 9-5, 11-inning league victory over the Twins on Sunday at Coral Seymour Memorial Park happened due to precisely executed defense when the pressure was greatest.
“It was a heck of a game,” Wasilla coach Boone Thompson said after moving to 4-0 in the league and 5-0 overall. “Kenai played great baseball and pushed us the whole way.
“They had us a couple of times.”
The game was scheduled for seven innings, and the Twins (2-2, 3-2) came back to tie the game at 5 in the bottom of the seventh when Kenny Griffin singled home Justin Wisnewski with two outs. Griffin would steal second, but Jacob Butcher would strike out Dallas Pierren to end the threat.
In the bottom of the eighth, Josh Darrow and Calvin Hills singled with one out to put the winning run at third base.
JJ Sonnen put down a safety-squeeze bunt, and as pitcher Tyler Boensch was throwing Sonnen out at first, Darrow broke for home. First baseman Ben Ross threw a strike to catcher Jeffery Forster to cut down Darrow.
“It had to be perfect,” Twins coach Hector Rivera said of the play. “It had to be perfect and they made the play.
“It was a good throw to first and a good throw to the plate.”
Perfection is no accident. Down to Boensch looking Darrow back to third before he threw to first, the Road Warriors nailed every detail on the play.
In the process, they may have learned Thompson, and his desire to work on such scenarios every week, is not so crazy after all.
“They almost hate doing it,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, they’ll see the light now.”
The Twins had another golden opportunity in the ninth inning. With one out, Justin Wisnewski reached second on a two-base throwing error by shortstop Mitchell Chauvin. Wisnewski moved up to third on a ground-out. With Pierren at the plate, one of Boensch’s pitches bounced away from Forster, but he was able to track the ball down and throw to Boensch covering home to nab Wisnewski by a whisker.
“I wanted this win really bad,” Rivera said. “We had like three chances. Our young team is learning, and this was a learning experience.”
In the top of the 11th, Wasilla’s bats got to reliever Tyler Covey. Covey gave up just one hit in his first three innings of relief, but started the 11th by walking Butcher.
With one out, Ross singled, Forster tripled to score two, Josh Boyer doubled off reliever Joey Becher to score one and Eric McEnnis hit a sacrifice fly for the 9-5 lead.
While Wasilla’s defense was good in the clutch, the Road Warriors did have four errors and give up three unearned runs.
The Twins defense was almost spotless, with just one harmless throwing error by Griffin. Hector A. Rivera led the effort with eight assists from shortstop, including a dazzling play in the fourth when he dove in the hole and got up in time to cut down Josh Boyer.
The Twins needed to be solid on defense because Butcher had no-hit them last season. Butcher again was solid, allowing just four hits in seven innings.
Meanwhile, Pierren was tasked with slowing down Wasilla’s hard-hitting attack.
“We’re hitting fastball pitchers pretty well,” Thompson said. “Everybody is throwing their No. 1 or 2 pitchers at us every game.
“We’ve seen them so much, we should be able to figure out how to hit them.”
Pierren was able to hold Wasilla to five earned runs on six hits, while walking two and striking out three.
The only inning Pierren was hit hard was in the fourth, when the Warriors got four runs on four hits. Rivera said Pierren’s location was off in that inning and the Road Warriors made him pay.
Ross finished 2 for 5 with three RBIs, while Butcher reached base four times and was 1 for 2 with two runs, Forster was 2 for 5 with two RBIs and a run, and Boyer was 2 for 5 with an RBI and run.
For the Twins, Griffin was 2 for 4 with a run and RBI, Darrow had two runs and an RBI and Calvin Hills was 2 for 5.
The nonleague game was not played Sunday due to rain. The makeup date has not yet been set.