Errors costly as Brandon-Evansville’s promising season falls short, Browerville-Eagle Valley better than advertised
Two errors in the first inning were enough to put a six-win Browerville-Eagle Valley team ahead of Brandon-Evansville for good. Despite solid pitching, the Chargers fell short of their ultimate goal with a first-round playoff exit.
Browerville-Eagle Valley entered the Section 6A play-in round with a record of 6-12, but the Brandon-Evansville baseball team knew they were going to be a handful.
B-EV (6-13) starting pitcher Nate Benning was stellar, but missed opportunities and mistakes in the field was the nail in the Chargers' (14-7) coffin on Tuesday night. The Tigers scored three unearned runs in the first inning on their way to a 5-2 win.
"It stings because we pride ourselves on our defense," B-E junior Titus Fuller said. "That's the one thing we've kept constant all year. It's just baseball sometimes. It just happened to be the worst time."
An error helped load the bases for B-EV in the top of the first inning before Marshall Murch delivered a two-out, two-RBI single down the left-field line. Trey Lancaster scored in the next at-bat on a dropped pop fly in the infield.
"Things are contagious in this sport," B-E head coach Brian Perleberg said. "Sometimes it's hits, and other times it's errors. We gave them a three-spot. I really thought it was going to come down to defense. Unfortunately, I was right."
Kyle Schaffran got one of the runs back after scoring on a wild pitch. He reached base on a walk before stealing second and third. But it was the bottom of the third inning where Perleberg thought the game was lost.
The Chargers loaded the bases with two outs to bring up Schaffran again. He drew a full-count walk to pull B-E within one. Benning halted the rally by getting junior Tyler Bitzan to fly out with the bases loaded. From there on out, Benning was near-perfect.
"We had chances to put up runs," Perleberg said. "Whether it was to tie the game or to take a lead, we weren't able to do that. (Benning) got tougher as the game went along."
B-E starting pitcher Dezmond White was pulled with runners on first and third in the top of the second inning. Despite not giving up an earned run, Perleberg turned to Bitzan to get out of a jam. Bitzan finished with eight strikeouts while allowing three hits and one earned run.
Benning threw 114 pitches over six innings for the Tigers. He surrendered just three hits and struck out eight Chargers on his way to an upset victory.
"He was throwing strikes all day," Fuller said. "We got the bat on the ball, but it just didn't seem to go to the right spots. That's kind of tough, and it's frustrating. Sometimes you have days like this."
B-E felt like a momentum swing was coming at several points in the game. In the top of the third inning, Brady Perleberg made a diving catch and a flip to the second baseman for an inning-ending double play.
The Charger dugout got rowdy for another double play an inning later. After dropping a fly ball in centerfield, Schaffran made a line-drive catch before throwing out a runner at first base. Fuller, the first baseman, wasn't surprised the lone senior in the lineup was able to shake off a mistake.
"Kyle was so great for us for the three or four years he played out there for us," Fuller said. "That play speaks to the kind of kid Kyle is. If he makes a mistake, he can move right on. He's one of the most level-headed kids I've ever played with."
B-EV added insurance runs in the sixth and seventh innings to give Benning the cushion to go deep. Parker Duncan recorded the save for the Tigers to set up a date Thursday with top-seeded New York Mills.
B-EV has had an up-and-down season. When they played the Chargers on Apr. 26, most of the lineup was out due to positive COVID-19 cases. While Tigers' six wins on the season may have deceived some, the Chargers knew they were better than their record.
"When we played them the first time, we basically played their JV team," Fuller said. "We knew coming in today this wasn't going to be the same team and that they were going to put the ball in play."
Fuller is part of a core group that returns eight of its starting nine players next season. Though Tuesday's season-ending loss will sting, exciting baseball is on the horizon for B-E.
"We are heading in the right direction," Perleberg said. "We have a ton of guys coming back, our pitching staff is intact, and we have some younger guys coming up as well. It's exciting. It's always tough to see a season come to an end, but we're still excited for what's to come."