Those were the words Steve Fowler has muttered too many time this season.
"One hit away. We were just one hit away," the Marion Bobcats manager grumbled Wednesday after a rain-shorted 4-3 playoff loss to Tradewater. "All season, we've been one hit away."
The victory sends Bobcat players home for the season and Tradewater to the KIT League championship series to face Owensboro, which on Wednesday also won its second game of a best-of-three series against Fulton. Marion dropped the first game of its semi-final series Tuesday 11-1 at Tradewater.
"It's disappointing," General Manager Gordon Guess said of the season-ending loss called after six innings. "A fitting end."
Guess nor Fowler protested the decision by umpire Brian Thomas to call the game amid a downpour, but a rally mounted by the Bobcats in the bottom of the sixth made the outcome a bit harder to take.
As the last of the fans hurried to their cars in the drenching rain, Thomas made the official decision inside the press box overlooking the diamond. Seated next to Guess in the booth with the GM's full blessing, Thomas made the call that recorded Lucas Cramsey as the final out of the Bobcat's inaugural season.
"You did all you could do," Guess said of Thomas' patience in letting the game continue as lighting bolts drew nearer.
At the end of the sixth, Marion left the tying run just 90 feet away, the go-ahead run on first, and ultimately, the team's hope for extending the season in the hands of Thomas.
With only one out and the score 4-2 in the Pirates' favor, it look as if the Bobcats might strike to tie the game or take the lead in the last half of the sixth as the weather front approached. A fielding error on a ball hit by Jacob Martin allowed Adam Blair to score to cut the lead to one run. That left Matt Little on third and Martin on second after a stolen base, but Adam Enloe hit into a fielder's choice that allowed Little to be cut down before he could cross the plate.
Cramsey, carrying a .296 average, the highest on the Marion team, came to bat with Martin on third and his college teammate, Enloe, on first. But Kevin Belk was able to get Cramsey to fly out to right field, sending the teams to their respective dugouts to wait out the approaching storms.
The storms, however, would not pass until enough rain was dumped on Guess Field to seal the Bobcats fate with a 4-3 loss. The one-run contest was the 19th of the year for Marion, the 10th of which the Bobcats came out on the losing end. One of the one-run victories came two days earlier at Union City in the opening round of the playoffs.
Dylan McCurry, Marion's starter, threw three innings, giving up all four of the Pirate runs on five consecutive hits in the third inning. Bo Daves took over in the fourth, tossing three innings of hitless ball through the sixth, but the damage was already done by the Tradewater.
For the Pirates, Sean Mahley earned the win with 5.1 innings pitched. Belk earned the save despite giving up the final run of the Bobcats' season.
Marion took a 1-0 lead in the first when Danny Tejeda earned a bases-loaded walk that scored Martin. Little would pick up the team's second RBI on a single that scored Scott Cashman after the shortstop lead off the inning with a double.
Cashman, who has struggled at the plate all year with a .131 average and a league-high 56 strikeouts, went 2 for 3 on the night. Little had two hits of his own, as did Tejeda. Enloe and Mitch McClay also added singles to the Bobcats' hit total of eight, but Marion left more than enough runners on base to easily win the contest. Ten runners, in fact, were stranded on the base paths in only six innings.
"Clutch hitting," Guess said after the game. "It's what's been missing all year."
Cramsey, who ended the regular season with a 25-game on-base streak, actually earned a trip to first base in his last 29 ball games including the postseason and the July 21 All-Star Game.
On the year, Marion added a 1-2 postseason record to its 20-28 regular season campaign.
Bobcat fans now await a decision by the team's 20 investors as to whether the Bobcats will return in 2009 for their second season. Though General Manager Gordon Guess gave no indication the team would not return, he said nothing will be official until the investors vote on the matter later this year.
Notes of interest:
- Bobcat outfielder Dustin Kennon will be transferred to a Memphis hospital for orthopedic surgery on his chipped pelvis, an injury sustained in the first inning of Marion's 11-1 playoff loss Tuesday at Tradewater. Metal pins will be inserted to aid the proper healing as the Memphis-area native recovers from the result of a collision with a wooden outfield post as he attempted to make a play on a fly ball to right field.
- After 35 wins against 15 losses for the Pirates during the regular season, the Dawson Springs club is hoping to earn a championship this weekend by adding two more wins to its 2-0 playoff record. Tradewater's foe, Owensboro, is now 3-0 in the playoffs after dispatching Fulton Wednesday and Farmington on Monday. The Oilers were 27-20 on the regular season.