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Matt Smith • Tri-Valley

Defeats Eldred

By Rob Potter
ELDRED — April 19, 2005 – It didn’t take long for a pattern to develop in Friday’s non-league baseball game between the visiting Tri-Valley Bears and the Eldred Yellowjackets.
That pattern was hitters from both teams being shut down by the two starting pitchers. For the first two innings, T-V’s Matt Smith and Eldred’s Mike Prunka did not allow any hits to the batters facing them.
However, Eldred (1-2) broke through for a pair of runs in the bottom of the third to grab a 2-0 lead. But T-V (2-1) responded with a run in the fourth inning and another in the sixth to knot the score at 2-2.
After the Bears evened the score in the top of the sixth, the Yellowjackets looked to tie the game or take the lead in their half of the frame. But Smith struck out the first two batters in the inning and got the third batter to fly out to center field to keep the game tied heading into the final frame.
But neither squad managed to score in the seventh, which sent the contest into extra innings.
After three scoreless frames, T-V scored twice in the top of the 11th inning to record a 4-2 victory. James Connolly led off the inning with a single to right field. The next batter, Smith, struck out, but reached first base safely when the ball eluded the Eldred catcher and rolled to the backstop.
Connolly, who had stolen second base during Smith’s at-bat, moved to third on the play. Smith quickly stole second base to put two runners in scoring position for designated hitter Danny Walter.
Walter grounded out to first, but Connolly scored on the fielder’s choice to give the Bears their first lead of the afternoon at 3-2.
Danny Knox then hit a sacrifice fly to left field, which allowed Smith to cross home plate.
In the bottom of the 11th, Ian Exner, who was the third T-V pitcher in the game, nailed down the Bears’ victory. He sandwiched two ground ball outs around a foul pop-up, which T-V catcher Fred Moore snagged in his glove near the Bears’ dugout.
“Being able to come back and win the way we did says a lot about our team,” T-V Coach John Rusin said.
Rusin praised Prunka and Smith for how well they pitched.
In nine innings on the mound, Smith struck out 11 batters, walked just one and allowed one earned run. Prunka pitched all 11 innings for the Yellowjackets, allowing two earned runs and four hits. He also struck out 16 batters.
Rusin also noted the performance by Exner. After Matt Smith hurled nine innings, teammate Josh Smith relieved him to begin the bottom of the 10th. But a series of events that included an error, a balk, a walk and a stolen base allowed the Yellowjackets to put runners on second and third with no outs.
Exner then relieved Josh Smith and promptly struck out the first batter he faced. After a groundout and an intentional walk to set up a force play at every base and home plate, Exner got another strikeout to end the Yellowjackets’ scoring threat.
“He came into the game in a very tough spot,” Rusin said of Exner. “I was very impressed with the way he pitched to get out of the inning.”
Veteran Eldred Coach Frank Kean noted that Prunka, who threw 118 pitches, was excellent.
“He threw a great game,” Kean said. “He gave up only two earned runs in 11 innings – that’s outstanding.”
Of course, Kean would have liked to have seen Prunka get the victory after pitching so well, but he praised the Bears for their performance.
“Things just didn’t go our way today,” Kean commented. “Tri-Valley deserves the credit for getting the hits when they needed to.”

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