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Defense falters in tough league loss : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Defense falters in tough league loss
Ayers strikes out nine over eight innings, Cats fall 7-5

by Laura M. Medina


To say that the Oswego Cats' latest outing was unsatisfying for field manager Todd Miller would be an understatement, as a sloppy defensive effort resulted in a 7-5 loss to the Beecher Muskies at Jackie's Field of Dreams on Tuesday night in Chicago Suburban Baseball League play.

Oswego (13-12, 10-9) returned to the diamond following a six-day layoff. It had split a weeknight doubleheader with North division-leading Lombard, winning 8-5 in the opener and losing 6-4 in the nightcap, last Wednesday at home before rain washed out twinbills versus Joliet and Homestead last Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Tuesday's defeat dropped the Cats to 3-3 in July with just nine regular-season games left. For Miller, the result was especially deflating.

"The defense is awful right now, absolutely awful," he said. "There were several balls in the infield we should have had, a play at third that should or should not have been played, a pop-up in the infield - it's frustrating to watch right now. These are plays that should be made, and instead, our pitchers are throwing extra pitches."

On the bump for Beecher was right-hander John Fightmaster, who faced a 1-0 deficit after the second following the effective base-running of catcher Zach Deutscher (North Park University). He'd surrender two more runs in the fifth - scored by second baseman Devin Ambrose (Tiffin University) and centerfielder Clay Schuler (Valparaiso University) - before his night was over.

Fightmaster gave up eight hits and two walks, while striking out nine in his outing.

Meanwhile, right-hander Kyle Ayers (Oswego High School) took the start for the Cats and seemingly cruised through the opposition before hitting a roadblock in the sixth, when four runs scored.

Catcher Marty Coyle started things off with a single and came around two batters later on first baseman Jason Squier's sacrifice. Left fielder Mario Hernandez brought pinch-hitter Ryan Copp home on a single, while the next two baserunners crossed on sacrifices to erase Oswego's three-run lead and make it a 4-3 game.

"Unfortunately, as it's worked out, Kyle's been the beneficiary of some pretty (bad) defense behind him," Miller said. "It wears on you, because you have to have your A-game with you every time you're on the mound."

Ayers came back for the sixth and seventh, allowing just two base-runners in that stretch and fanning five of the eight batters he faced. In all, he surrendered four runs, seven hits and a walk, while striking out nine in eight innings. Ayers, who entered with a 1.73 ERA in five starts, fell to 1-3 on the year.

Right-hander Dominick Tatone (Judson University) came on in relief in the ninth, and after getting lead-off hitter and centerfielder Mike Henderson to fly out to start the inning, he faced a heap of trouble on the bases.

Tatone walked second baseman Matt Filkins and an error allowed shortstop Jimmy Calderone to reach first safely and bring Filkins home. Two more runs came around on Squier's single to left for a 7-3 score. Tatone conceded three hits and struck out one in the last inning.

Oswego was left to make up the deficit in the bottom of the ninth, and while it was able to tack on two more runs against right-hander Steve Styck, who surrendered three hits, hit one batter and fanned three in 3 1/3 innings, it was not enough for the win.

"That game was won. It was 3-0, and they were dead, absolutely dead, and we handed it back to them with those couple of plays in the field," Miller said. "Something like this, if you don't get in front of it, it's just going to snowball and get more miserable for everyone to be here.

"No one likes to lose. If we lose and play well, I don't mind, but when we lose and play badly, it's just frustrating."

Right-hander Corey Schultz earned the save after getting the final two outs of the game and quelling the Cats' rally.

"We only scored five runs, but we hit the ball relatively well," Miller said. "We put up two more in the ninth, but our defense is absolutely killing us right now. It's tanked on us, that's for sure."

Miller and the Cats might have been disheartened after the game, but they had fewer than 24 hours to dwell on the defeat, as they returned Wednesday night against Addison. Results were unavailable at press time.

"These guys gotta step up," Miller said. "We can't give away these runs; our offense isn't good enough to be giving up runs (here and there). We have to find something to help pick us up on the defensive side. That's our Achilles' heel right now."

Oswego will have plenty of opportunities to improve its defense this weekend, as it hosts the Braves again tonight (Thursday) at 8 p.m. A doubleheader against Crystal Lake is set for Saturday afternoon, while another is scheduled for Sunday against Michigan City at Purdue-North Central in Indiana.

Miller is hoping that his team can find a few answers for its woes before it begins its final push for the postseason.

"We do the best we can," he said. "I'm not asking them to make the 'SportsCenter' play, just make the routine play. Play the ball that's coming at you. I don't know how many times I saw a guy short-change a ball - just take a step in; don't wait for it.

"I think everybody that's here wants to be here, and that's the thing that's frustrating. There are times where it looks like we either don't want to play or aren't ready to play, and that's just absolutely killing me. We have a good bunch of guys here."

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