Prep Baseball & Softball

Don’t blame the coach, sometimes the breaks (and the other team) beat you

Baseball is the perfect mathematical game that is played more than any other sport within the statistics.

Managers stack their lineup with batters who have the highest batting average at the top, playing on the percentage chance that they'll get on base ahead of the guys in the middle, who statistically speaking, are more likely to hit one out of the ballpark.

We also know though statistics that 2-1 is the best count for a hit-and-run, that it’s better to walk some batters intentionally than to pitch to them, and that the increased chances of a runner scoring from second is worth the price of an out by sacrificing him from first.

That doesn't mean there's no room in the game for a coach to go on his guy, but you get my point.

This brings us to the 18-inning marathon between Belleville West and Belleville East in a Class 4A regional semifinal game Thursday, which the Maroons won on a walk-off hit by sophomore Hunter Grupe.

East coach Ryan Wiggs is going to get raked over the coals (probably even by himself) because of a series of decisions he made coaching third base in the top of the 17th.

Both are easy to second-guess given their outcomes, but in the moment Wiggs was playing the percentages.

He was just beaten by the breaks.

The first play begins with East senior Drew Millas standing on second base and nobody out. The next batter, Jordan Yates, found a hole on the left side of the infield for a base hit.

The percentage play here with nobody out was to hold Drew at third base, which is what Wiggs did.

The Lancer loyals groaned.

Would Millas have scored? Yes, but only because left fielder Luke Vallandingham bobbled the ball in the tall outfield grass. Of course there is no way Wiggs could have known the ball would be mishandled and, by the time it had been, Millas had already put on the brakes.

Had Vallandingham fielded the ball cleanly and Millas attempted to score, there would have been a play.

But with nobody out and his RBI guys up next, Wiggs knew that the odds favored East getting a fly ball or a base hit from one of the next three batters and not risking the winning run at the plate.

The next batter, Isaiah King, lifted a fly ball directly at West senior right fielder Austin Gutterman, who played all 18 innings of the game without ever getting an at-bat.

With one out, Wiggs had Millas tag up and go home.

Millas is arguably the best athlete on the team — he's the quarterback on the football team, point guard in basketball, and a Missouri State University-bound catcher. It was going to take a perfect throw for Gutterman to get him out.

And Guetterman made one. The blue section of the bleachers groaned again — this time would have sethe fickle Lancer loyal though Wiggs shouldn’t have sent him.

The Maroons won the game, 6-5, with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the 18th. Fair and square.

There are good arguments to made on the other side of both decisions, or course. Even if Wiggsnt Millas home on the base hit and he was out, East probably would have ended up with a runner on second with one out. That’s not a bad spot to be in, either.

But that’s the difference between could have and should have. Criticizing on the basis of hindsight would be out of line.

And so, there remain just three right moves to be made:

Cut a young coach some slack, give Guetterman some credit for making a great throw, and tip your cap to two great teams for gutting it out through 18 innings of splendid baseball.

Sports Editor Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman

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