By Jacob Rudner
Cole Girouard stood in the batters box on Monday evening, waiting for Wilson Tobs starter Chandler Coates to come to the plate.
The count was 0-0, Coates, a southpaw from Arkansas State University, wound up, kicked his leg and delivered a game-opening fastball to the Pilots' leadoff hitter. But, swing Girouard did not. The fastball broke the plain and the left-handed hitter representing Peninsula squared to bunt, pushing the ball into the earth and towards first base.
Coates crashed towards the ball, Wilson catcher Chase Wullenweber did the same. But, gears turning and in a head down sprint, Girouard kicked up the War Memorial Stadium infield dirt in an unselfish sprint for first base.
He was safe.
Girouard set the tone for the Pilots. His hit made an immediately impactful statement to the team. A statement who's words were made clear with the muffled pop of the bat on the bunt single. The Pilots needed to play more simply the bunt said. They need to work together and each at-bat should work hand-in-hand with the next one.
"Our approach was much more unselfish and the quality of our at-bats was better up and down the lineup tonight," manager Hank Morgan said. "Girouard set the tone early with the push bunt and the rest of the guys passed the baton like good lineups do."
This unselfish and one through nine togetherness the Pilots played with came after two frustratingly quiet games from the offense and equally frustrating mound performances. But, in simplification of the game's process the Pilots found themselves back in the win column. They found themselves there emphatically after an 11-0 blowout over the Tobs.
The win was necessary. On Friday, the Pilots lost dishearteningly to the Fayetville Swampdogs in a loss Morgan could only describe as "frustrating" on the bus ride back to Hampton. On Saturday, the combination of walks that killed the pitching staff and at-bats that tried to put the "I" in team combined for an 11-3 loss to Martinsville. However, the message from day one that Morgan tried to convey: "just play for each other. If you need to bunt, do it. We want to win and everybody is apart of that," was in full force, Monday night.
Unselfish batting led to quality AB's. The swings were not for the fences but for the outfield grass. The high octane production was a direct product of that.
Nick Biddison finished the evening 5-5 with four runs batted in and lacked just a triple for the cycle. He was the Coastal Plain League player of the night for it.
"I've been very impressed with Biddison's presence and confidence," Morgan said. "Has has a very good chance to be a next-level guy."
But, Biddison's outrageous performance was just one brick in the wall on Tuesday night. Five of the twelve Pilots that came to the plate did not record a hit yet all five of them recorded at least one RBI. From Zack Smith's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth to Cole Secrest's two-RBI groundout just two batter's later, the Pilots were making productive contact not unproductive power hacks.
"The willingness to use the whole field allowed them to keep their barrels in the zone longer and given them the margin for error that's necessary to put together multi-hit performances," Morgan shared of the team.
Quality on the diamond, however, did not stop at the plate against the Tobs. It was there on the mound.
Ryan Devine, the Pilots' 6'4 sidearm reliever from St. Joe's started the match for the Pilots and finished momentum for the Tobs with a 5 inning performance that yielded only four hits, a walk and five punchouts. His command of the outing was another one of the game's saving graces.
"After walking a batter per inning over the previous two nights, Ryan really showed the way with how much fun the game is when you attack hitters," Morgan said of his starters shutdown performance. "His tempo was good, he controlled the running game, he located his slider well and worked ahead in the count. It was a pleasure to watch and I'm sure the guys enjoyed playing behind him."
In a vacuum, the small ball hitting and pitch to contact ideologies are baseball's simplest forms of how to win a game. They avoid complication, they force every player on the diamond and on the bench to be cognizant of one another and, so far in 2019, the Pilot's two wins have been byproducts of the two strategies.
Peninsula baseball in 2019, albeit being a minuscule sample size, has been like going on a hike with a fork in the road. On one path, a straight shot trail to the mountain's summit. That trail, however, is a near vertical climb, gruelingly steep. The other path is of the same end destination and traverses the same steep mountain. This trail, however, is made with switchbacks and flatter ground. It is easier and it gets the hikers to the same spot as the eye-deceivingly "quicker" steep route.
The Pilots need to continue to hike the switchback. For them that is with every bunt, sacrifice-fly and contact-oriented swing. With each one of those, a step towards the summit. A the top a victory, on the way there a simplified journey. The hikers have to choose which route to take.