Dawgs move into three-way tie for third with 8-0 shutout of Knights
By TJ MAXWELL
Copperas Cove head baseball coach Dusty Brittain needed his team to put all aspects of the game together to stay in a good position for a playoff spot with just five games remaining.
They did just that.
Cove seniors Cameron Johnson and Josh Ropple combined for a three-hit shutout on the mound while seven players combined for 11 hits in the win, led by a perfect 3 for 3 performance by senior Nick Izquierdo and 2 for 3 batting by Johnson.
“This is a big one,” said Brittain. “We went into the week saying, ‘it wasn’t going to be good enough to split with these guys. We need to go sweep them and we’ll worry about the next one after that.’
“For me personally, I haven’t had a whole lot of success against Heights so it’s nice to get this monkey off my back a little bit. It feels good to win this one but, we’ve been good at home, now we need to go be good on the road. That’s what we’re going to work the rest of the week on.”
Johnson had been on the wrong side of one-point decisions in his last two starts with walk-off losses marring his outing. The Dawgs lost 2-1 to Ellison on March 26 and 10-9 to San Angelo Central on April 3.
“(The win) feels really good,” said Johnson. “The bats really came alive today; which they didn’t in those close losses. We definitely should have hit better in those games but, I’m proud of the guys for hitting and playing defense well. It was a big step up from San Angelo.”
After not scoring in the opening inning, the Bulldawgs began to find their offensive groove scoring at least one run in the next five innings on their way to the 8-0 win.
After a walk and a hit batsman to allow the Knights to threaten early in the first inning, Johnson dialed it in to strike out the next five batters faced to give Cove an opportunity to take the lead in the bottom half of the second.
A leadoff walk by junior Colby Jost led to the first of three Cove runs in the inning. A groundout by Izquierdo put Jost in scoring position and an RBI double to right field by Jacob Wagner broke the scoreless tie.
A single by senior Jaylen Smith in the nine hole and an error put another runner in scoring position for senior Michael Goudeau at the top of the lineup and he took advantage scoring Smith with an RBI double to left field.
Three more free bases allowed the Knights to juice the bases in the top of the third inning but the sixth strikeout of the game by Johnson shut down that threat.
A hit batsman allowed senior Tyler Ingram to reach to lead off the bottom half of the inning before a single by Izquierdo and another hit batsman (Wagner), loaded the bases for Smith who drew an RBI walk for a 4-0 Copperas Cove lead.
After plunking another batter to put the lead-off runner on in the top of the fourth inning, Johnson rang up the next three batters for his 10th strikeout of the game.
The third lead-off free base of the night for Cove put Ropple on first on a walk before Brian Hodges connected on a single to center field to put two runners on. A wild pitch allows Ropple to score from third and Hodges to advance to third before an RBI by Jost on the fielder’s choice gave Cove a 6-0 lead.
The Knights broke the no-hitter in the top of the fifth on a single to left field by Josh Ratcliffe but a forced ground out and two more strikeouts by Johnson again closed the door.
A lead-off single by Goudeau and a stolen base then put another runner on for Ingram who connected with an RBI single to left field for the 7-0 Cove lead.
After the 13 strikeout and fourth walk of the game, Johnson reached his pitch count and was relieved by Ropple. The Knights tried to take advantage of the switch with a one-out single by Matt Smith to put two runners on but Ratcliffe hit into the 6-4-3 double play to end the inning after the single by Zane Wallace.
Cove added their final score in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI triple down the third-base line that scored Izquierdo who singled to reach.
The Dawgs had seven of their nine batters collect hits on the night.
“It’s got to be that way,” said Brittain. “I tell these guys that, ‘we’ve got to do a good job with situations in the game offensively. If teams are going to allow us to just hit a ground ball to score a run, we’ve got to execute. We also need to execute that small ball stuff. The guys having success is a testament to them working on those little things and having a good approach at the plate. I’m proud of my guys for fighting through this one.”
Izquierdo finished 3 for 3 with one run followed by Johnson (2 for 3, R, BB), Smith (2 for 3, R, RBI, BB), Ingram (1 for 2, R, RBI, BB, HBP), Wagner (1 for 3, R, RBI, HBP), Goudeau (2 for 5, R, RBI), Jost (1 for 3, R, RBI, BB) and Ropple (0 for 2, R, 2BB).
Johnson picked up the win on the mound for Cove. He allowed no runs on one hit while striking out 13, walking four and hitting three batters in 5 1/3 innings.
“He just ran out of pitches,” said Brittain. “He made a few mistakes that cost him a couple of batters and made it where he couldn’t finish the game but, it was a big battle. He came back and mowed some guys down and I’m very proud of him.”
Johnson admits having so much run support took some pressure off.
“It makes it really easy because, if I do give up a run, its’ just 8-1 or 8-2,” he said. “It just makes it a lot easier to just focus on throwing strikes and not worry about if it’s a close game.”
Ropple allowed no runs on two hits in 1 2/3 innings of relief.
Tre Martin and Ratcliffe each went 1 for 2 to lead the Knights and Wallace was 1 for 3 to account for the Knights’ three hits.
Jonathan Olson suffered the loss for the Knights. He allowed four earned runs on five hits while striking out one and walking three in 2 2/3 innings. Martin allowed two earned runs on three hits while fanning one and walking two in 1 1/3 innings of relief while Spencer Young allowed two earned runs on four hits while fanning three and walking one in two innings of relief.
The Dawgs (19-4-2, 5-4 in District 8-6A) travel to Harker Heights for game two of the home-away series tonight with the first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. Cove will travel to Killeen for game one of the two game series on Tuesday.
“We just need to play just like we did today,” said Johnson. “I know Jaylen is going to throw a good game there. I know we’re ready to go out there and get the win because we really need it and we’re hungry for it.”
The Knights (13-10, 3-6) will play their two-game series with San Angelo Central beginning with the Bobcats at home on Tuesday.