by Richard Creaser
ORLEANS — The Lake Region Rangers hosted the visiting Richford Falcons for an impromptu doubleheader Monday afternoon. Saturday’s regularly scheduled match between the two teams was rained and snowed out and, due to poor field conditions back in Richford, the two teams opted to reschedule their May 30 game to take advantage of good weather and a dry field. The two wins boosted Lake Region’s season record to 8-5, while Richford fell to 4-8.
The sudden change gave Ranger Isaac Miller a chance to do something he had not yet done this season — pitch the start of a game. Miller has been used primarily in relief through the season. With five total games scheduled for this week alone, Coach Eric Degre had to make use of all his pitching assets, and that included giving Miller the ball for the start of game two.
“You just always have to be ready,” Miller said of his new assignment.
As a reliever, one might expect Miller to start strong and then tail off as the innings and pitch count rises. That wasn’t the case as Miller struggled through the first inning, surrendering a single, three walks, and a run on 30 pitches. He also struck out two batters in the inning.
“That first inning was not good,” Miller said after the game. “When I came out in the second I just got in my mind that the guys behind me would make the plays if I just put it in play. I think I kind of got in my own head a little in the first.”
Miller would cruise through the next four innings, throwing only 39 pitches, while adding four more strikeouts, in the winning effort.
Offense was not lacking as the Rangers teed off on Richford’s Jake Cunningham. If game one could be characterized as a pitcher’s duel, game two was anything but, at least from the Falcons’ perspective.
The Rangers would tie up the game in the home half of the first and, while Cunningham and Miller would both run through a quick second inning, Cunningham ran into trouble in the third. Back to back walks to Billy Cashin and Sam Barbeau set the table for an RBI single to Matt Messier. Dustin Bathalon would then follow up with a big two RBI double that gave the home side a 4-1 lead.
The Rangers would explode for four more runs in the bottom of the fourth, courtesy of four singles, a double, a walk and an error. The Rangers would add another run in the bottom of the fifth. Miller would finish out the fifth with a commanding 9-1 lead.
The defense that carried the Rangers through 13 innings of baseball that day experienced a bump in the top of the seventh inning. Two hits, a walk, and three errors later the Falcons found themselves having closed the gap to just four runs with only one out. Coach Degre went back to Messier, who started the first game, to finish off the Richford rally. Messier would strike out Jose Ramirez and get Deli Hue to fly out to right the ship and preserve Lake Region’s 9-5 win.
Messier’s first game shutout win was a positive step forward for both the sophomore and the Rangers as a team. The team has struggled with defensive and offensive consistency this season, Coach Degre said. On Monday afternoon, it appeared the pieces were finally falling together.
“We’ve been cooped up these last four days so everyone was kind of anxious to get out and play some baseball,” Coach Degre said after the first game. “We manufactured some runs and Matt pitched an outstanding game. We played some great baseball.”
Messier credits his strong performance with solid command of his fastball. His ability to pound the strike zone with his fastball gave him the confidence to throw in the zone. Messier would retire nine batters in the game.
“Defensively, we were a lot better than we have been,” Messier said. “I’d say this was probably our best defensive game of the year.”
Messier also gives credit to his catcher, Jeremy Dean, for his part in the shutout. In the realm of high school baseball, passed balls are almost a given as young pitchers and young catchers try to strike an often imperfect balance.
“In high school baseball passed balls are gonna happen,” Messier said. “He didn’t allow any and that’s something pretty amazing. That made sure that the guys who got on didn’t go anywhere.”
The Rangers defensive game was exceptional, until the last inning of the second game that is. Routine plays remained routine and a few exceptional plays helped keep the damage to a minimum.
“We’ve had some problems with our defense this year,” Coach Degre said. “But we’ve been working on that. Friday we did an hour of groundball drills in the gym.”
contact Richard Creaser at [email protected]