ALLEMAN — The difficulty of winning a baseball game with only eight players caught up with Collins-Maxwell/Baxter Tuesday night.
But it took all seven innings before CMB went away.
Des Moines Christian eliminated the Raiders from the Class 2A playoffs with a 6-4 win after CMB completed the final five innings defensively without its starting shortstop, an automatic out in its lineup and only two outfielders.
“It’s just bad luck I guess, where our ninth guy gets hurt and we have to play with eight,” CMB head coach Max Seeman said. “I thought the guys did a great job of responding and not giving in or giving up. They stayed in the game and they did what they had to do with eight guys, because it’s better to play with eight than just forfeit.
Seeman’s 17-man roster shrunk to nine prior to Saturday’s first-round playoff game due to players leaving for a mission trip and a band trip. The lack of depth became an issue when sophomore Spencer Gauch attempted to steal second base in the top of the third inning and collided with Des Moines Christian shortstop Cole Peterson. Gauch remained on the ground holding his head until Seeman and a trainer helped him off the field.
“We played that way Saturday and I had no second thoughts about it. I thought we would be just fine,” Seeman said of his limited roster. “I knew as soon as Spencer was still on the ground that it’s not good because he’s had a history of some concussions before from football.”
From that juncture on, Seeman juggled his defensive rotation to the best of his ability. Starting first baseman Zach Samson moved to short, a position he said after the game he hadn't payed before. Left fielder Creighton Caple moved to first. Tucker Maxwell shifted his positioning from center to left center and right fielder Jacob Stratton moved to right center.
"There was so much uncertainty," Stratton said.
Des Moines Christian tested CMB's improvised defensive alignment in the fourth when Nick Friess drilled a pitch into an empty center field. Maxwell sprinted what he estimated after the game to be about 100 feet trying to catch the ball, but it sailed over his head for a game-tying triple. Friess later scored on a squeeze bunt to give Des Moines Christian its first lead at 2-1.
“It was a lot harder getting a good read on balls because you don’t normally play there,” Maxwell said, noting the angles throughout the game were tough. “Especially on the one that went over my head, I took a bad angle at it. I definitely think if we had nine, we’d still be playing.”
Added Seeman: “I felt like it was inevitable … for a ball to be hit to the outfield where a normal position player would make (a play) and we just couldn’t make it with the two guys. Tucker made that one pretty close. It seemed like it just went over his glove.
“That ball’s normally caught by your center fielder, or at least I would like to think so.”
Des Moines Christian starting pitcher Luke Nuemayer quickly retired CMB in the top of the fifth as Gauch's spot in the lineup, an automatic out due to his absence, produced the second out in a 1-2-3 inning. It was the first of two times in the game in which Gauch's spot in the batting order yielded an out without an actual at-bat.
The second occurrence proved most costly, and came in the seventh as CMB tried to climb even again with the Lions.
Des Moines Christian scored three times with two outs in the bottom of the sixth after a potential inning-ending double play ball resulted in only a force out at second base.
As CMB prepared its attempt to tie the game again, Gauch's spot was due up second in the seventh inning. Seeman said that appearance "was the biggest one" and added it had "a pretty big effect on the game."
After Aric Broderick reached on an error and Stratton walked, Maxwell singled to center. Stratton was thrown out at home for the second out of the inning and Stover grounded out to first in the ensuing at-bat to end the game.
"You see a teammate go down, especially when you've only got nine guys here, you're going to be down a little bit," Samson said. "We just kind of said, let's go, we have to do it. Life isn't fair sometimes and this was one of those bad breaks for us."