by Richard Creaser
ORLEANS — Lake Region’s Matt Messier performed a rare feat on Wednesday afternoon, retiring all 21 Peoples Academy Wolves in order, including 12 strikeouts. His perfect game came with more than a little help from his teammates.
“I’ve been around baseball for 28 years, and I’ve never been part of a perfect game,” Lake Region Coach Eric Degre said after the game. “It’s just incredible to be around this…this aura.”
While credit goes to the pitcher, without the help of his teammates, that perfect game would not have resulted in a win for the Rangers. Clutch hitting and spectacular fielding all contributed to the historic moment, Coach Degre said.
The Rangers got out to an early lead as Kolby George started off the home half of the first with a sharp crack down the third baseline. Josh Locke’s fielder’s choice advanced George to second. Messier helped his own cause by launching a solid line drive up the middle that scored George from second to give Lake Region a 1-0 lead.
Few plays were as remarkable as the catch that kept the hitless streak alive in the fourth inning. Peoples’ Kiley Moody stepped up to the plate and launched a high, curling fly ball into deep right centerfield. From the moment the bat made contact with a resounding crack, Ranger right fielder Dillon Gile was moving at a full sprint. Gile tracked the ball as it curled back, snagging it over his shoulder as he continued running toward the wall.
“He saved me twice,” Messier said of Gile’s performance in the field and at the plate on Wednesday. “When you have an outfielder that’ll go after a ball like that, it puts you at ease on the mound. You know those guys are behind you and it let’s you just pitch.”
Though Wolves pitcher Justin Tibbits left the game after the fourth inning, he had an equally solid outing on the mound. Tibbits allowed a scant five hits and one walk, surrendering three runs and striking out two in the loss.
Tibbits’ fate was sealed in the fourth following a lead-off walk to Dustin Bathalon. Bathalon stole second on a fingertip slide that beat out the throw and set him up in scoring position. Gile came to the plate and smacked a line drive to shallow right that brought Bathalon around to score. Zack Royer singled to advance Gile to third, putting men on the corners with one out. Ranger Albert Schand bunted a hard shot toward the mound. As Tibbits threw to first, Gile bolted home, and Royer tried to advance to third only to be cut down on a tag to end the inning. The Rangers now had a 3-0 lead.
The Rangers would add another run in the sixth off Peoples’ reliever Nick Audet. The Rangers managed to record the run as Peoples attempted to turn a 1-6-3 double play that enabled Logan Harper to come around from third even as Royer beat the relay to first to avoid the second out.
While the Rangers offensive output was not especially vigorous, the combination of timely hits and keen base running allowed men to come around and score. That has proven to be a problem for the Rangers at times this season.
“The last time we played Peoples we lost 3-0,” Messier recalls. “All three runs scored on errors and we just couldn’t get our bats working. Today was just the opposite.”
The team’s hitting struggles are hopefully a thing of the past, Coach Degre said. Over the last few games the team has been hitting better and delivering hits when they need them most.
“The way the weather has been this season, it’s hard to get in a good rhythm,” Coach Degre said. “Every time I have to get on the PA and make the announcement that a game has been canceled, a practice has been canceled, it’s been hugely disappointing. The boys have been wanting to get out here and play.”
The timing for the Rangers improved offense couldn’t have come at a better time. With only two regular season games remaining to play, the playoffs are just around the corner. If ever there was a time for the pieces to come together, this is it, Coach Degre said.
“Having that awesome energy from today’s game carryover into the end of the season is awesome,” Coach Degre said. “I ask a lot of them because I know they can do it. When you concentrate on doing the little things that’s how you win ballgames.”
The Rangers wrap up the regular season with a pair of away games, both at Danville. With the win Lake Region improved to 8-5 on the season.
contact Richard Creaser at [email protected]
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