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Big Sticks unravel in top of the ninth in 5-4 defeat

"They both didn't have their best stuff tonight, but we are going to ride with them until the end,” said Cam Johnson, Big Sticks head coach.

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Big Sticks lose 5-4 after holding lead for five innings against Pioneers on Saturday, July 23.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — The Badlands Big Sticks’ fifth inning would be the last time they crossed the plate on Saturday night in a missed opportunity that opened the gate for their opponents to take a late lead. The Western Nebraska Pioneers would steal the win on a passed ball as the Sticks’ bullpen took a rare loss.

“It's one of those where you can’t find the strike zone a lot. We made an error that we couldn't afford to make,” Cam Johnson, Big Sticks head coach, said. “It would have given us the first out and the first out is always the hardest. Our guys have been really good all year and those two have been really good for us all year in the bullpen. They both didn't have their best stuff tonight, but we are going to ride with them until the end.”

The Big Sticks started off strong with a two-run first inning, courtesy of a bases loaded walk and a wild pitch. But the Pioneers responded in kind with two runs of their own in the top of the second — the only two runs starting pitcher Sam Marherfke would give up.

The right-hander held the mound for seven innings and though he allowed six hits, he was backed up by his fielders in a solid showing through five innings.

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Sam Marhefke pitching against Pioneers on Saturday, July 23.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

A two-run early lead could have been enough to pull off the win, credit to the Sticks’ defensive confidence. Firing on all cylinders the Big Sticks contained two rally attempts in the fifth, quenching the fires quickly with back-to-back 4-3 putouts.

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First baseman Derrick Calvillo tallied nine putouts, including two foul outs, and finished a 5-4-3 double play in the third inning in what was looking like one of their best defensive showings of the later season.

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Derrick Calvillo fielding a foul ball for an out in the third inning.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

“Our defense was awesome man, we kind of shifted some guys over and it kept us in the game there and to walk it off in the ninth... we just couldn't move the baseball.”

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Kobe Krenz groundout.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

All seemed going to plan until the time came to close the door in the top of the ninth.

Closer Grayson Gillford, who had been solid in his limited closing opportunities all season, would in a brief lapse of concentration launch a wild pitch to start the inning and be quickly substituted for fellow reliever Daniel Rivera. Rivera garnered one strike out, but had trouble with control with his breaking ball and would walk batters to the plate in a tying run.

The game ended with a “three up, three down” inning for the Sticks, as the home crowd stayed on their feet and cheering til the bitter end.

The final score of 5-4 sees the Pioneers one win away from securing the series and dropping the Big Sticks to second in the division.

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Campbell spent his first four seasons with the Minnesota Twins and went 17-5 with 20 saves and 3.01 ERA in 167 2/3 innings of relief in 1976.

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Josiah C. Cuellar was born in San Angelo, Texas, a small rural community in the western part of the state known for its farming, ranching and beautiful Concho River. A Texas A&M San Antonio graduate specializing in multi-media reporting, Cuellar is an award winning photographer and reporter whose work focuses on community news and sports.
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