The Thomson Bulldogs dropped a pair of games in Summer League play Friday, the first to the Aquinas Fighting Irish, and the second to the North Augusta Yellow Jackets.
"The first game I thought we were a little flat," head coach Aaron Hall said after the games. "But I talked to them a little bit about playing with intensity and enthusiasm in the second game, and I think we had a good effort out there. We came up a little bit short, but we had a good effort as a team."
Thomson lost the first game to Aquinas by a score of 7-4, despite getting out to an early lead. Thomson's leadoff batter in the first inning, Austin Whitehouse, got on base with an infield hit, then promptly stole second and third. Thomson's second batter, left fielder Josh Jones, drove in Whitehouse with an infield hit of his own, and Thomson was on the board with a 1-0 lead. Jones stole second and scored on a single from designated hitter Andy Grimaud. Grimaud scored later in the inning and Thomson ended the first with a 3-0 lead, a lead they held into the third inning.
By then, Aquinas' batters had made adjustments to Thomson starter Hunter Bragg's unique off-speed pitching and knocked him out of the game, scoring three runs in the third to tie the score. Chad Austin came in in relief of Bragg and held Aquinas scoreless in the top of the fourth.
"Let's make some adjustments and get the job done," Hall encouraged his players before they came up to bat in the bottom of the fourth, and the Dogs responded by putting another run on the board. But Aquinas' bats were too hot, and the Irish added four runs in the fifth inning to take a 7-4 lead, which they never relinquished.
The Bulldogs fared somewhat better in the second game of the evening, this time against the North Augusta Yellow Jackets. In that game, the Dogs took an early lead when a single from Hank Doupe drove in Chad Austin, in to run for Austin Cooper, who'd reached base on a single to shortstop. The Yellow Jackets responded with a run of their own, and the first inning ended tied 1-1. By the fourth inning, North Augusta had a 4-1 lead, and Josh Jones came in to pitch in relief of starter Andy Grimaud, who had strained his arm. Jones had a three-up, three-down inning, and also held the Yellow Jackets scoreless in the fifth inning, and the Dogs came up to bat in the sixth still trailing by three.
In the sixth inning, Hall demonstrated some of the coaching acumen that recently earned him the head coach's position. With the bases loaded and two outs, Hall gave the steal signal to Chad Austin, and both he and Hank Doupe scored on a passed ball. North Augusta also walked in a run, and Clay Basingame drove in a run to give the Dogs four runs for the inning, and a 5-4 lead.
But North Augusta regained the lead with a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth. Thomson tied the game when Austin Herkel drove in a run with a double blasted to left field in the top of the seventh. But a three-run homer by North Augusta in the bottom of the seventh gave the Yellow Jackets the victory by a score of 9-6.
"It just looked like our guys didn't even show up for that first game," assistant coach Daniel Farrell after the game, "but we talked to them between games, and the guys responded and did a great job keeping us in a position where we had a shot to win the game. With these new bats, though, runs are really going to be at a premium. It's going to be a lot of small ball, infield hits, bunts, and doing whatever you have to do to bring the runner home once they get into scoring position."
The new bats Ferrell referred to are the new BBCOR bats, which will be the only bats allowed in high school baseball starting in the spring.
"The BBCOR bat replaces the old BESR bats that we've used the last couple of years," Hall said after the games. "It hits the ball a lot softer, more like a wood bat. It's basically going to change the game. It means we're not going to be able to sit back and wait for someone to hit a two- or three-run homer. We've got to play more small ball, more hit and run, more bunting, more executing."
Though the BBCOR bats aren't yet required for high school play, Hall already has several players working with them.
"I want our guys to get used to the new bat, 'cause that's what they're going to be playing with come the regular season," Hall said. "There's no point in having them swinging bats they can't play with in the spring."