CLOVER HILL — When it comes to facing adversity, there’s not much Clover Hill players haven’t seen throughout their lengthy tenures playing at any level of baseball.
As the league’s oldest and most experienced team, the Bucks have handled setbacks as well as anybody and it has resulted in one of the best summers in team history this year.
“It helps when you have veterans on the team,” Clover Hill coach Chris Cofer said. “Sometimes, with a younger team, they can panic a little bit when they think, ‘Are we getting in a spin or not?’ We just kind of got back to what we do and live off the consistency that we usually bring to the park.”
The Bucks got back to the team they’re accustomed to being Wednesday, bouncing back from a loss on Monday to defeat Bridgewater 7-1 in Game 3 of the Rockingham County Baseball League’s best-of-seven championship series at Buck Bowman Park.
With the win, Clover Hill takes a 2-1 lead in the series and is a pair of victories away from winning their 18th league title in team history, which would tie the Reds for most all-time.
Arguably the biggest reason for the Bucks’ win on Wednesday was the performance of pitcher Corey Armentrout, a former Turner Ashby standout and a Clover Hill veteran.
“I felt good,” Armentrout said. “I knew it was going to be a pitchers’ duel from the get-go. [Bridgewater pitcher Derek] Shifflett always throws the ball well so I knew I was going to have to locate, hit my spots and be aggressive.”
Armentrout did just that, tossing a complete game for the Bucks while giving up just one run on six hits and a pair of walks while striking out a game-high 13 batters in the process.
With Shifflett, a Fort Defiance alum that is considered one of the best arms in the RCBL, back after missing the previous two games, Cofer turned to his most experienced arm on the mound and it paid off.
“He’s a big-game pitcher, a money pitcher, for sure,” Cofer said of Armentrout. “He just gets stronger as the game goes on, which you have to do in the RCBL. Those outs late in the games are really tough to get.”
It was a pitchers’ duel through the first five innings, but Clover Hill gave Armentrout the insurance he needed in the sixth with a couple of big hits from its two big hitters.
Former Fort Defiance standout Blake Sipe gave the Bucks their first run with an RBI single into center and, in the ensuing at-bat, TA alum Tyler Bocock crushed a three-run homer into deep center to make it a 4-0 lead in favor of Clover Hill.
“Shifflett is tough and he gets tougher when he gets a lead,” Cofer said. “I know everybody kind of felt the urgency of getting something on the board. Getting the big home run to kind of push it out a little bit was a really big thing and I know it made Corey made really comfortable out there.”
While it understandably could have made Amentrout more comfortable to know he had a lead to work with, he said it actually motivated him to play better and not give it up.
He never had to worry about that Wednesday with a single from Kevin Kirk, a double from Ross French and a sac fly from Sipe putting three more runs on the board in the seventh and giving the Bucks a commanding a 7-0 lead.
The Reds got their lone run in the final inning when Tucker Garrison connected on a sac fly to center, but Bridgewater was unable to mount any sort of last-inning comeback attempt.
“I look at it more as I have to bear down now,” Armentrout said. “I don’t want to let them back in the game. I just wanted to go ahead and bury them at that point.”
Bocock finished 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs for Clover Hill wile Sipe had a pair of RBIs and French was 3-for-4 with a double and an RBBI.
For the Reds, Jacob Grabeel and Turner Ashby senior Antonio Florentino-Sosa finished with two hits apiece while former Spotswood product Kyle Weston added another.
Shifflett pitched eight innings in the loss, giving up seven runs on eight hits and a pair of walks while striking out 10.
It was the third time this postseason that the Bucks have had to respond to a loss after dropping just four games throughout the entire 28-game regular season.
Each time, however, they’ve responded well as they answered with a series-clinching win over Grottoes in the quarterfinal round, a 16-3 rout of Elkton in the semifinals and a strong defensive effort on Wednesday against Bridgewater.
“I think it’s a little bit of experience, but I think mostly we just know we are a good team,” Armentrout said. “In a lot of those games, it’s mental mistakes that we make. We’re like, ‘Look, we gave this away.’ A lot of times, it’s just us refocusing and getting back after it.”
Now that they’ve responded, Cofer said he wants the Bucks to finish the job.
The longer the series goes, the more likely it is that the sixth-seeded Reds gain confidence that they’ll be able to pull off the upset of the league’s top team.
Cofer said he wants to avoid that and is asking his players to answer the call a couple of more times so they can finish off the year with another RCBL championship win.
“We just want to play consistent baseball,” Cofer said. “That’s what has got us the wins that we got in the regular season. We pitch it will, we field it well and we are efficient at the plate. That’s been the mantra and kind of how we operated this year. We just need to play a clean baseball game and score runs when given opportunities.”