MASON — Cincinnati Christian School’s early baseball schedule has been filled with overmatched opponents, but Thursday marked a clear step up in competition.
It was also the Cougars’ first loss of the season, a 3-2 setback at the hands of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy at Prasco Park’s Legacy Field.
“That loss is better than some wins, no doubt about it,” CCS coach Curtus Moak said. “Being a Division IV organization playing a D-II team of their caliber makes our guys realize they could do really well this year because it was their game to win a couple times. I think we’ll get good momentum coming out of today.”
» PHOTOS: Rick Cassano’s gallery from Prasco Park
Cincinnati Christian stranded nine runners, left the bases loaded twice and had some bunting problems, ultimately losing when CHCA sophomore center fielder Adrian Davis connected for a one-out walkoff hit in the bottom of the seventh.
The Cougars, 9-1 overall and 7-1 in the Miami Valley Conference Gray Division, are still a first-place team in the conference. The Eagles are 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the Scarlet Division.
“Definitely we’re upset about the loss, but all of our guys are happy with how we performed for the most part,” CCS junior shortstop Alex Johnson said. “We just didn’t execute at the end like we should’ve. We’re going to find the things we did right today and smile about them and take the things that we did wrong today and work on them.”
Johnson, Winston Spencer and Trevor Allen all contributed two hits for Cincinnati Christian, and Johnson and Allen drove in a run apiece.
Mitchell Smith pitched an eight-hitter for CCS, but gave up a leadoff double to Andrew Brock in the bottom of the seventh. After a strikeout and Adam Rakestraw (running for Brock) advancing to third on a wild pitch, Davis launched the game-winning hit into left-center field.
“I was feeling really confident,” said Davis, who went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. “I was thinking they were going to walk me because the coach looked at me. Then I got up there, and it was a fastball right down the middle. I just waited on it and swung.”
Brock had a pair of doubles and Lucas Rotello added an RBI for the Eagles. Rotello pitched the last inning in relief of starter Clayton Brock, a Central Michigan University commit, and picked up the win.
“It was big for us to come back and feel good again,” said CHCA coach Tony Schulz, whose squad lost to Summit Country Day on Wednesday. “Curtus has a great ballclub assembled over there. They’re D-IV, but they are a tough team, a tough out, and they showed it today. We’re happy to come out with a league victory. We hope they go out and beat a couple other teams in the league.”
Rakestraw was making his first appearance of the season when he became a pinch-runner in the seventh. He’s been dealing with a wrist injury and hasn’t been cleared to hit, but is able to run and play the field.
Schulz said he contemplated giving Davis the squeeze-bunt sign before letting him swing away.
“He’s so good at driving a pitch when he gets one that he can get some lift under,” Schulz said. “I was pretty confident that he’d get one in the air for us, and with the speed Rakestraw had on third, I thought he’d score on just about anything in the air.”
Davis actually had to deal with some cramps during the postgame celebration.
“I get bad cramps. It runs in the family a little bit,” Davis said with a smile. “I just want to spend time with my teammates and enjoy this win. Coach has a 12-hour rule until the next game. It should be a good 12 hours.”
Clayton Brock and Rotello are hard throwers, and the Cougars saw a lot of not-so-hard throwers in their first nine games.
CCS collected nine hits Thursday, and Johnson said his team wasn’t intimidated by Brock. Some batting-cage work with Moak doing the pitching bolstered their confidence.
“He was pumping in the cage before the game,” Johnson said. “He’s still got some gas in the tank. He’s got some filthy stuff. He was showing us left-handed break, some deuces. He was close, but he was throwing hard. It really got our timing down and helped our mental game. We came out with some energy and a fire.”
Cincinnati Christian’s two bases-loaded situations ended with Smith at the plate. He grounded out in the fourth and took a called third strike on a 3-2 pitch in the sixth.
“I would ask for him in that spot 20 more times in a row,” Moak said. “He missed a couple pitches that he probably should’ve hit forward, but that’s baseball. He’s one of our guys, and we’d want him up there every time. He pitched unbelievable. He battled so well out there.”
CHCA is back in action Friday at Dixie Heights (Ky.), facing Newport (Ky.) Central Catholic in the Doc Morris Invitational.
“We’re going to set the bar high,” Davis said. “We expect to get to state, but we’ve got to be on the same page and just keep working together.”
Cincinnati Christian will visit Seven Hills on Monday. Moak said the Cougars should get a boost from the return of Johnson to the mound in the near future.
“I didn’t come into school season prepared for pitching. I didn’t take care of my arm the way I should have,” said Johnson, noting that he was diagnosed with an inflamed rotator cuff. “But I’m coming back to pitch for sure. Nothing’s torn. I didn’t have any pain today, so that’s a good sign.”
Cin. Christian 100-100-0—2-9-2
WP — Lucas Rotello (1-0); LP — Mitchell Smith (4-1). Records: CC 9-1, 7-1 MVC Gray; CHCA 7-3, 5-1 MVC Scarlet