By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Friday afternoon’s NBL matchup between host Cardinal Newman and Ukiah turned out to be a testament to the Wildcats’ resilience. Ukiah trailed 3-0 after three innings and then 3-2 in the seventh inning with two outs, two strikes and no runners on before rallying for six runs to win 8-3.
“Our boys play with relentless energy, they never gave up,” Ukiah (9-5, 3-1) coach Stephen Summers said. “This was a great win. Any road win in the NBL is good.”
With the Cardinals (10-4, 3-1) up 3-0 in the top of the sixth, the Newman defense made an assortment of errors — two fielding miscues on the infield, a dropped foul pop-up, and two botched rundowns of Ukiah baserunners. The mistakes led to two Wildcat runs.
“Our defense broke down today and it has been solid all year,” Newman coach T.J. McMahon said. “Ukiah is a much-improved ball club this year.”
Newman was still primed for the win in the seventh, up 3-2 with Cardinals closer Alex Roeser on the mound. After two quick outs, Roeser walked three in a row to load the bases and clearly had lost his control, but McMahon elected to stick with his closer. The gamble did not pay off.
Ukiah’s Colton Crabtree had a gritty at-bat, fouling off numerous pitches with two strikes before earning a walk to tie the game 3-3.
“That was a great at-bat by Crabtree that extended our rally,” Summers said. “That was at least a ten-pitch at-bat.”
Cardinals reliever Kyle Scott replaced Roeser with the bases still loaded but couldn’t put out the Ukiah fire. Scott gave up an RBI single to Joey Brazil then hit a batter, forcing in another run. With Ukiah up 5-3, Scott uncorked a wild pitch and then Ukiah’s Trenton Burford slashed a single down the right-field line to plate two and blow the game open, 8-3, in favor of the Wildcats.
“I don’t think the loss came down to just the last inning,” McMahon said. “We made a lot of mistakes throughout the game. Ukiah competed today; they stayed in the game and didn’t give up.”
The biggest individual benefactor of the Wildcats’ late heroics was Ukiah starting pitcher Devin Kirby, who went the distance. Kirby was slated for the loss as the seventh inning started but earned the win at the close of the inning.
“I had confidence in my team,” Kirby said. “We have been taking advantage of opportunities all year.”
Kirby had one off inning — the third — but otherwise was in command throughout. In seven innings he gave up six hits, three runs (two earned), struck out five and walked four.
“Ukiah’s starter pitched well,” McMahon said. “We weren’t being aggressive at the plate and he had his change-up working. We let his change-up dictate our at-bats.”
In the third inning, Kirby gave up a booming triple and double deep to the power alleys and then a sharp single that led to two Cardinals runs. Kirby regrouped and pitched a shutout the final four innings.
“Their hitters started figuring out what I was throwing (in the third inning),” Kirby said. “After those hits I practiced my routine and my breathing.”
Summers said he had his closer ready to replace Kirby in the seventh if necessary but Kirby sailed through the inning.
“Kirby was just throwing first pitch strikes and locating his change-up,” Summers said. “Today he was throwing his best change-up all year.”
Newman starter Cal Clamar pitched well enough for the win but ended with a no-decision. Clamar went five innings, gave up two runs (one earned), three hits, struck out two and walked five.
“I just want to move forward from this game,” McMahon said.