CORNER BROOK As the bases filled up in the top of the seventh, Health and Performance Aces pitcher Brian Bennett just tried to stay focused.
His team was sitting on a 6-1 lead, just three outs away from extending their best-of-three Corner Brook Molson Senior Baseball League semifinal series against the West Side Monarchs to a third-and-deciding game.
But here he was, under the Jubilee Field lights on Monday night, and the heat was definitely on.
“Get the next guy out,” said Bennett of what was going through his mind. “Try to keep the ball low and make them put it in play.”
The Aces eventually perservered and pulled out the 6-2 triumph, but the Monarchs certainly made it interesting in that final inning.
After the Aces went three up, three down to cap the sixth inning, it was a chance for a last gasp for the gold and black. Brad Brewer reached base on an error to begin the parade, then Jon Wheeler singled to get two men on. Bennett walked Mark Armstrong, which loaded the bases, before striking out Gary Kean to give himself a little breathing room.
A run finally crossed the plate when Bennett hit Rob Park with a pitch, sending Brewer home. But then Sean Mitchell fouled out and Jeff Gillam grounded out to end the threat, and the ball game.
“Playing this team, the game is never in the bag,” said Bennett. “They’re after coming back and beating us so many times this year after we were up five or six runs ... the game’s not over until we get three outs in the seventh.”
Luckily for the Aces, they had a few runs to spare in Game 2, after losing a low-scoring extra-inning affair in Game 1 on Friday. Both pitchers that made appearances for the Monarchs struggled, with Jeff Gillam replacing starter Matt Prosper after three innings. Gillam gave up three runs on three hits, with two walks and a strikeout.
“We got the key hits when we needed them,” said Bennett. “In the first game we didn’t.”
Not only did the Aces get those hits, the Monarchs did not, at least not until that short spurt in the seventh. After hitting the ball well all year, the second-seeded squad has picked a poor time to go cold.
“We never hit the ball well in the first game either, we were lucky to pull out the first game,” said Monarchs’ Mitchell. “Our bats have gone dead the last two games.”
Prosper’s pitching performance suffered because he was suffering from the flu, according to Mitchell, while Gillam was forced to come in and throw after not making many mound appearances all year.
Still, the Monarchs hung in there and almost made a game of it.
“We’re the type of team that will never give up,” said Mitchell. “We can put up a five-spot or a seven-spot just as well as anyone. We tried to stick with it, unfortunately we couldn’t pull it out.”
The Aces got on the board first in this one, when Mark Lombard scored on a Ryan Harnett single in the second inning. Then Justin King scored on an error in teht hird, followed by Bennett crossing the plate on a fielder’s choice.
The onslaught continued in the fourth, as King and Rob Myrden both cashed in on a Rob George base hit, before Lombard stole home in the fifth to make it a 6-0 game and seemingly seal the deal.
But then came the Monarchs, with Mitchell scoring on a single from Gillam in the sixth, setting up the seventh-inning drama and Brewer’s lone run, before the Aces finally closed them out.
So it comes down to Game 3 tonight, with the victor advancing to meet the Veitch’s Hawks in the league final.
“They’ve got a good team, we’ve got a a good team,” said Bennett. “Let’s see who shows up to play (tonight).”
The key for the favoured Monarchs, said Mitchell, is to wipe Monday night’s match from their collective memory. He’s quick to point out his team were 8-0, including Game 1 of the series, against the Aces before losing Game 2.
“There’s no pressure, it’s just one game,” Mitchell said. “We just need to put this behind us and come to play (tonight).”
Teams 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Monarchs 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 6 2
Aces 0 1 2 2 1 0 x 6 7 1
Brian Bennett (W) - 7IP, 6H, 2R, 1BB, 2K
Matt Prosper (L) - 3IP, 4H, 3R, 2BB, 1K
Mark Lombard - 2-for-3, 2R, 2RBI
Sean Mitchell - 2-for-4, 1R, 1SB