5/2/23:   The Redwood Varsity Baseball Giants fell behind 4-0 to the Branson Bulls at home on Tuesday, staying dormant until the 5th inning, then chipping away through seven to send the game to extras. Their improbable comeback was capped with a walkoff squib in the bottom of the 8th.
The Giants gifted the Bulls an early lead right away. Starter Rory Minty walked Bulls shortstop Cooper Tenney, then got left fielder Will Ashley to ground to shortstop Danil Wells. Wells bobbled the ball, then threw it into right field, putting runners on first and second with one out.
Minty snagged a comebacker on a big hop to get the second out 1-3, but now the runners were on second and third, with Bulls first baseman Kaden Gustafson coming to the plate. Gustafson sent a sinking line drive into center field, where Gavin Soper charged in, diving onto his belly for what seemed to be a spectacular inning-ending catch.  But Soper’s fully-extended glove had only managed to trap the ball, and of course, with two outs the runners were going on contact, so – in this game of inches – instead of sitting down scoreless, the Bulls dugout was up celebrating Gustafson’s two-run single.  Branson 2, Giants 0.
The Giants couldn’t get anything going against Bulls starter Wilson Wendt, perhaps distracted by Wendt’s audible grunting on every pitch. While the Giants were indeed making good contact – Bulls pitching recorded just a single strikeout on the day – those balls seemed to be magnetically attracted to Branson outfielders. In fact, five of the first seven Giants batters flied out.
In the top of the 4th, Sam Gersch came into the game, and was immediately put to work, as Gustafon belted a double into the left field corner. Bulls catcher Luke Shane followed with a sinking liner to right that Jack Moseley plucked out of the air before it could cause any harm. Next up, right fielder Morris Jacoby slapped a hard grounder to the glove side of Giants third baseman Rex Solle, but in a tough break, Solle came up without the ball. Fortunately, Gustafson didn’t advance, so now there were runners on first and second.
When Minty reached back to fan Bulls DH Grayson Roberts for out number two, it looked like the Giants might get out of the inning unscathed – even more so when pinch hitter Enrique Dominguez, representing the bottom of the Bulls’ order, sent a bouncing ball up the first base line towards Harrison Lapic.
The baseball Gods clearly were not looking Redwood’s way at that moment, as the ball took a freak bounce on the line, changing course to angle back towards second base, past the previously well-positioned Lapic. Now, instead of resting comfortably in the dugout, Minty faced the top of the order, with the bases full of Bulls.
Minty worked Bulls center fielder Noam Au Yeung to a full count, continuing to battle through three foul balls, until getting Au Yeung to hit the ball on the ground to second base. But in a sign of the Giants’ bad juju du jour, the normally sure-handed Theo Trono flubbed the play. With the runners again going on contact, the error scored both Gustafson and Jacoby, making it 4-0 Bulls.
It looked like the damage might extend when Tenney followed with a line drive up the middle. Wells laid out behind second base for a spectacular grab, but the ball popped out when Wells, fully extended, hit the ground. There was momentary confusion while the ball lay on the ground, as Wells scrambled to his feet and both Trono and Au Yeung arrived in the vicinity of second base. Au Yeung was starting his slide, and seemed too close to make a play.
But in a heads-up move, Wells scooped up the ball and swiveled to third, where a curious Dominguez had wandered off the bag. Wells fired to Solle, who slapped a tag on Dominguez to put an end to the eventful inning.
The Giants finally got something going in the bottom of the 5th against Wendt, who started things off by handing Gersch a leadoff walk, then drilling Wells on a bunt attempt. Gersch stole third uncontested, as Bulls third baseman Liam Parrot was playing in for Wells’s bunt, then scored on a ground ball to third by Trono.
Moseley followed with a single in the hole to put runners on first and third for Minty, who executed his end of a squeeze play, scoring Wells, and moving Mosely to third on the throw. When Wendt hit Solle to put runners on first and third, it signaled the end of his work for the day. Ashley moved in from left field to the mound for the Bulls, inheriting a 4-2 lead.
Solle quickly stole second, putting two runners in scoring position, and the sun began to poke through the clouds. Was the game turning Redwood’s way? The crowd’s hopes were lifted on a long fly ball to left center from Coughlan, but Au Yeung’s running catch deflated them quickly, and ended the inning.
The Giants weren’t done for the day quite yet, though. Designated hitter Matthew Knauer led of the bottom of the 6th by fighting off an inside fastball and dropping it into left field. When the ball rolled through Roberts’ legs, Knauer wound up on second, and Roberts wound up on the bench, yanked immediately by his coach for the error.
Soper followed with a beautiful sacrifice bunt, sending Knauer to third, whereupon Gersch hammered a single to right, scoring Knauer and making the game 4-3 with only one out. Hey! The Giants might actually be back *in* this thing!  The sun broke through again with Trono up and Gersch on 3rd, and again the crowd was stirred by a long fly ball – this time to right center – but again Au Yeung ranged back to the wall, and corralled it, retiring the side.
Meanwhile, Minty had only gotten stronger over the course of the game, allowing just six hits on the day, and no walks since the first inning. He retired the Bulls in order in the top of the 7th, finishing with 108 pitches, and bringing Redwood up for – ostensibly – their final at-bat.
Moseley led off the inning with a blistering shot right back between Ashley’s knees. Protectively, Ashley reached down and was lucky to grab it for out number one. Perhaps a bit jostled, Ashley then walked Minty aboard. Jack Corvi came on to pinch run for Minty.
The speedy Corvi stole second, then took off on a Solle single in the hole. Even though the ball wasn’t very deep into left field, Head Coach Mike Firenzi had no hesitation sending Corvi, perhaps the fastest player on the team, to try for the tying run.  Roberts charged the ball, firing off a relay to Ashley, who wheeled and dealt a perfect throw to Shane at the plate. Boy, was it going to be close… Shane’s tag came down onto Corvi’s knee, but the ump, standing in great position, called Corvi safe, ruling that his foot had touched the plate just prior to the tag. The game was tied 4-4!
Solle moved to second on the play, and Coughlan walked behind him, and with Knauer coming back up, the Giants were within a hair’s breadth of walking the game off right then and there. But that would have been too easy. Knauer grounded into a 6-4-3 double-play, and as if that weren’t bad enough, the field ump made a big deal about how the third out was *really* Coughlan, who he said had slid into second baseman Tom Lardner on the turn. Either way, the game was destined to go to extra innings.
Since Minty had used up his maximum pitch count for the day, Firenzi turned to reliever Chas Veley. Gustafson made things interesting, leading off with his third hit of the game, a seeing-eye grounder in the hole, bringing Shane to the plate. Liam Stewart came in for the Bulls to run for Gustafson.
Shane may have had the worst at-bat ever recorded in baseball history. First, he squared to bunt, and somehow managed to foul the ball off into his own face (fortunately, he was ok). Then, Shane struck out swinging on a hit and run as Stewart was trying to steal second. Demoralized by his strikeout, Shane put his head down and began to trudge back to the dugout, stepping right in front of Coughlan who was trying to throw down to second.  The ball careened off of Shane’s helmet and popped straight up into the air, and before it had even come down, the home plate ump was stepping out in front of it all, swiping one hand over the other to call interference. Both Shane and Stewart were out. The bases were clear.
Shane’s at bat thus included the following: He was hit in the front of the head *and* in the back of the head. He struck out swinging *and* made two outs on the same pitch.  The fortuitous turn of events left Veley only the task of retiring pinch hitter Charlie Zwibelman, which he did on a fly ball to Soper.
As the bottom of the 8th unfolded, the Giants’ win was by no means assured.  Soper led off by striking out swinging, before Gersch was hit by a pitch and took first. Attempting to sacrifice, Wells bunted underneath a ball, blooping it towards third with some serious backspin.  Now it was Shane’s turn to call interference, as he tripped over Wells while trying to reach the mini-pop. Even though the ball spun foul, the ump called Wells for not getting out of the way.
Even with two outs, though, Ashley was feeling the pressure, as he proceeded to hit Trono, then walked Moseley to load the bases. Minty then squibbed a grounder to Tenney at short. Leaning over as the ball was spinning away from him, Tenney tried to go to second for the force to retire the side. But his momentum carried him just a bit too far. Tenney’s throw was high, pulling Lardner off the bag, as Moseley slid in safely, allowing Gersch to score the winning run. It wasn’t pretty, but somehow, the Giants had pulled it off.
With the win, the Giants move to 17-6 on the year (12-3 MCAL). They maintain second place in the MCAL race, and are increasingly likely to host the first round playoff game against the #3 finisher, either Tam, San Marin, or Novato, all teams they’ve beaten twice this year.
The Giants match up again with the Bulls on Thursday, for their last game of the regular season. The MCAL playoffs begin next Tuesday.

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