The tide of Wednesday’s clash between Ironwood Ridge and Buena baseball teams turned on a misplayed fly ball to left field. The soaring ball, which came off the bat of Levi White, careened off the glove of the Colts’ left fielder, allowing third baseman Ajay Ram to score the winning run from third.
The strange walk-off situation was the final act in an odd ballgame, which featured multiple lead changes and frustration on both sides of the diamond, with Ironwood Ridge winning, 8-7,6 to improve to 9-6 this season.
For longtime Ironwood Ridge coach Kevin Baker, the team’s effort in the one-run win was not up to par, leading to a stern postgame huddle and his players running sprints along the right field line.
The late night running drills were a reminder that a close victory wasn’t enough, given the team’s on-field lapses and lackadaisical play, according to Baker.
“We played well enough to win, which, in the end, is what you need,” Baker said. “We have great young men. We just need to work on getting the little things done.”
Baker’s message wasn’t lost on the players, according to senior shortstop Nathan Baez.
“We just need to come out with more energy, just play better as a team, that's it,” he said. “We can't have bad games like that,” Baez said. “We didn't play as well as we wanted to. We still came out with a win and that's all that matters, but we just need to come out better tomorrow and then the next day.”
What exactly caused Baker to discipline his players may have seemed unclear from the outside, though catcher Dylan Inclán provided some insight.
Inclán, who belted a two-run home run over the left-field scoreboard in the game’s second inning, said the team’s on-field follies will serve them well in the long run.
“We were making some bad plays, and our pitchers might have been struggling, but everyone was working hard, grinding,” he said. “They were putting their best foot forward, and that's what ultimately gave us the win.”
Baez said his coach’s postgame message was well-timed, coming on the heels of the team’s 4-2 loss to defending 4A champion Nogales Tuesday, March 26. The future Arizona State Sun Devil said the team understood Baker’s frustration, acknowledging their sloppy play of-late.
He said the team’s on-field camaraderie was on full display during a team meeting, which happened after Baker and his assistants talked to the players.
Baez said the Nighthawks took responsibility for their lapse in focus, moving their attention to the team’s road game against Sunnyside Friday, March 29.
Baez said the key to what Baker told the team was that their cohesion allowed them to ultimately win a game that they would have lost in years past.
“We just have great team chemistry,” he said. “All the seniors, we're really close, and we're just going to come out and play. That's going to help us win some games that we might have lost last year.”
Inclán said the Nighthawks are ready to get back to business as usual with a renewed sense of focus and mental clarity for the second half of the season.
“[Our goal is to] try and control what you can control, just get everything right out of you, get all the routine plays you can and then that's pretty much it,” Inclán said.