Whitewater baseball head coach Rusty Bennett knew he needed to motivate his team.
After losing a tough series against Starr’s Mill earlier in the season, the Wildcats sat at 4-9 and outside of the state playoff picture. They struggled to find consistency on offense and had defensive lapses in the field.
So, Bennett sat down with his team and made a list of goals to accomplish for the remainder of the season. On that list was to raise the team’s average, have quality starts, and to host state playoff matchup among other things. The players took notice and it resulted in the Wildcats getting hot down the stretch to make the playoffs.
On Friday, the Wildcats achieved their goals as they hosted Jones County in the first-round of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
“We talked all week about coming out here to play our game and giving ourselves a chance to win,” Bennett said. “We feel like that we can play with anyone.”
The Wildcats played with renewed energy against Jones County. They fed off a fiery home crowd as they swept the playoff doubleheader behind solid pitching and hitting. They won the first game 2-1. Later, the Wildcats took the nightcap, 6-2, to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
“I thought our guys competed well for 14 innings tonight and did especially well on the mound,” Bennett said. “You get good pitching like that and you can do a lot of things.”
Chase Townsend was the story of game one. He shut down Jones County over seven innings, allowing one run on two hits. His fastball was deceptive in the zone as he struck out four batters in the game.
He also added the game-winning hit in the sixth inning as he doubled off the centerfield wall. The RBI-double drove in T.J. Berry to give Whitewater a 2-1 lead. In the seventh inning, Townsend would close it out with back-to-back strikeouts to end the game.
“Normally I am a straight cutter pitcher, but it wasn’t working today,” Townsend said. “I had to go with my fastball, slider and changeup. They were a little behind and I used my fastball a lot to stay ahead.”
Bennett was proud of Townsend’s performance. He admitted that he didn’t have his best pitching arsenal, but it was enough to help the team stay in the game.
“He also was able to get a big hit and he shut the door,” Bennett said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but it was good enough for us to get the win.”
In game two, Whitewater jumped out to an early lead and held on to secure the series-clinching victory. The Wildcats used big games from Justin Burdette, Dylan Morris and Maddox Mueller to propel their offensive attack.
Burdette and Morris also provided dividends at the plate. They were a part of a three-run second inning. Both players had a hit in the frame and that set the tone for the rest of the team. Townsend was happy to see the entire team playing for each other.
“It’s the chemistry that we have and the brotherhood,” Townsend said. “We all like each other and play to win. That is something a lot of teams don’t have.”
Bennett agreed. He was happy to see the team keep fighting despite several Jones County making a late run.
“The guys in the dugout were tremendous tonight,” Bennett said. “They were picking their team up and it was a big team effort tonight.”
Whitewater will head on the road to face Veterans High School next week. Veterans knocked them out of the playoffs last year and beat them in the first game of the season. Bennett hopes the team can continue to hit and extract some payback this time around.
“We want to try to go down there and get a little revenge,” Bennett said. “We are going to play hard and give them a contest.”