The Van Bulldogs seem to save their big run productions for the later innings and Monday night’s regional semifinal was no exception.
Trailing 4-3 going into the sixth inning, the visiting Bulldogs scored seven runs in the sixth to vault past Buffalo, 11-4.
The rally included two suicide bunts, three Bison errors, and a two-run single by Matt Slone.
“I call them the cardiac kids,” said Van head coach Steve Price. “They like to score runs late.”
The Blue and Gold wasted no time getting on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning.
Lead off hitter Corey Castle reached base via a Buffalo error and went to second on a sacrifice by Nick Green.
Castle advanced to third on a single by Slone and then scored on a ground out by starting pitcher Jason Hoosier for a 1-0 lead.
But the Bison wasted no time either in the home half of the first, plating three runs of their own. They added another run in the second for a 4-1 lead after two innings of play.
After a shaky two innings by Hoosier, he then settled down and would allow only two hits the rest of game.
The Bulldogs cut the lead to 4-3 in the fourth when Jon Simms worked Buffalo starter Jason Lewis for a walk.
Jared Thomas doubled and Simms and Thomas both scored on a single up the middle by Loren Harshbarger.
With the score still 4-3 going into the sixth inning, the Bulldogs had saved their best for last.
Thomas drew a one-out walk to start the inning and a Harshbarger single advanced him to third.
Scott Branham then laid down a perfect squeeze bunt that scored Thomas and tied the score at 4-4.
Branham reached safely on the bunt and Victor Niemec followed with a walk to load the bases with one out.
A throwing error by the Buffalo infield allowed Harshbarger, who was hung up between third and home after a pitchout, to score the fifth Van run. Branham and Niemec moved up a base and the Dogs had runners at second and third, still with only one out.
Castle then laid down another suicide squeeze bunt that scored Branham and gave Van a 6-4 lead.
But the Boone County Boys weren’t done yet.
With Castle safe on the bunt and Niemec at third, Castle then stole second and both scored on a single by Slone.
Hoosier followed with a double to score Slone and Derek Hall (pinch running for Hoosier) eventually scored on a throwing error by the Bison.
They added another run for good measure in the top of the seventh when Castle’s single with two outs scored Niemec for a final score of 11-4.
The Bulldog offense was led by Slone who finished with a 3-4 showing, including two RBI.
Thomas, Harshbarger, and Castle added two hits each with Thomas’ being a double. Harshberger and Castle collected two RBI and Castle stole two bases.
Hoosier added a double and two RBI in the win.
Hoosier was also the winner on the mound. He settled down after the first inning and pitched a five hitter, striking out nine and walking four.
Up next for the ‘Kids’ is revenge.
The Bulldogs have a debt to pay and will certainly have revenge on their minds when they meet up again with the Matewan Tigers on Wednesday, May 23 at Nitro.
The two squared off last year in Logan in a regional semifinal game that saw the Tigers come away with a 10-inning, 1-0 victory. Tiger pitcher Matt Lester threw a no-hitter and the Bulldogs would certainly like to avenge that loss.
However, Van did win both regular season games in 2007, 12-6 and 15-9.
Slone will get the start on the mound. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. at Nitro High School.