It all came down to execution.
Dayton High couldn't execute at the plate or in the field and dropped a 3-2 nine-inning decision to Virgin Valley of Mesquite on the first day of the NIAA 3A State Baseball Championships at Western Nevada College.
The loss dropped Dayton into a loser bracket game today at 10 a.m. at Peccole Park against Truckee, a 4-1 loser to Spring Creek, which will play Virgin Valley at 1 p.m., also at Peccole.
The Dust Devils managed just three hits and stranded seven runners. It was their inability to play small ball and move runners over in the seventh and ninth innings that led to their demise. They also misplayed two fly balls in the ninth which kept Virgin Valley's game-winning rally alive and made Dayton ace Cory Yoder the losing pitcher despite a superb effort.
"Three hits in nine innings," said Dayton coach Jay Merrell. "We set the table all day but couldn't come through."
The Dust Devils left runners at third in both the third and fourth innings when they scored a run each time, and then stranded a runner in scoring position in the fifth. If those failures weren't disappointing enough, take a look at the seventh and ninth innings.
In the seventh, Logan Garling singled to center off reliever/winner Travis Leavitt and advanced to second when Conner Oliver walked. Tim Doyle tried to bunt the runners over, but he bunted right at third baseman Zach Horlacher, who forced Garling at third for the first out. Brandon Aguilera struck out looking and Yoder popped out to third.
Virgin Valley had a chance to win the game in the seventh when it put runners at first and second with one out. Brent Horlacher lined to left and Kayanne Faught rolled to second base to end the threat.
"That was our best chance," said VV coach Boyd Wittwer. "He hit a shot to left, but the outfielder was playing him deep and it was hit right at him."
Dayton had another chance to go ahead in the ninth, but came up short again.
Nick Bircheff led off with a walk. The situation called for a bunt, but Merrell let Garling hit until the count was 1-1, and then Garling tried to push a bunt toward first which rolled foul. Garling struck out on the next pitch, and then VV catcher Ty Tait threw a strike down to first and picked off Bircheff for the second out. Oliver rolled to short to end the inning.
"He (Garling) put his bat on the ball the last time," Merrell said. "He had a great two-strike approach and lined one up the middle. Other guys weren't coming through. I had to give him an opportunity.
"I don't know what happened (on the pick-off). He (Bircheff) was too caught up in the moment and lost his head."
Things only got worse in the bottom of the inning.
Sean Shimizo, who went 5-for-5 in the game, lofted a fly to left. Bircheff came in, stopped and the ball bounced past him for a double.
"That should be a caught ball," Merrell said. "He'd been making the play all week long in practice. He was tentative and playing not to lose instead of to win."
Jason Wittwer followed with a fly ball to right. Donald Somers misjudged the ball in the wind and it dropped behind him for a double. Shimizo stopped at third. Leavitt was walked intentionally to set up a double play, and Horlacher, who lined out for the second out in the bottom of the seventh, drilled a single through the left side of the infield to win the game.
"Another can of corn," said Merrell when asked about the ball hit to Somers. "It should have been caught.
"That was one of the greatest pitching performances I've seen. What hurts is that we lost and I only have two innings left with Yoder."
Under high school rules, a pitcher can only throw 11 innings a week. To use nine innings in a win is no big deal, but to use a pitcher nine and lose is a huge thing.
Yoder tried to remain philosophical about the loss, and he said that he believes his team can bounce back.
"I think we can," said Yoder, who scattered nine hits. "We took this loss to heart. We'll put it into our next two games .
"We couldn't get the last two plays to open a new inning. I wish we'd had those. We would have been out of it."
Coach Wittwer was happy with the win. Despite making four errors, Wittwer felt that defense was the difference in the end.
"The first one is big," he said. "It doesn't mean much unless you get the second one. If you don't, you're right back where you started.
"In the end, I felt like defense won it for us until we could get the right hit at the right time. "
And, don't forget about Leavitt, who allowed just one hit in four innings of relief of starter Anthony Morris, who struggled with his control in his five-inning effort.
"He (Morris) had thrown enough," coach Wittwer said. "He said his back was stiff."