Chillicothe infielder Mike Smith loves the days Josh Bruce pitches. On most occasions this season, it’s the only time Smith gets to crack the starting lineup.
Smith made the most of his start on Wednesday against Benton in the Pony Express baseball tournament.
The Hornets’ number nine hitter lined a two-out double into left field that scored Jason Singleton with the tying run in the seventh inning. Two batters later, Wyatt Pickering drew a bases loaded walk that scored Smith and gave Chillicothe a 8-7 victory over the Cardinals at Hyde Park.
“Josh Bruce is our regular shortstop, so we use Mike when Josh is pitching because he’s a great shortstop,” said Chillicothe coach Dave Mapel. “What a big hit he got today.”
Chillicothe’s win ensured that the Hornets (7-2), Benton (9-3) and Maryville finished in a three-way first place tie in pool play. With their 25-4 win over Lafayette on Wednesday, the Spoofhounds won the run differential tiebreaker and advanced to Friday’s 6 p.m. championship game against Savannah.
Smith’s seventh-inning heroics came after the Hornets squandered a 6-3 lead, and let Benton rally for a 7-6 advantage heading into the last half-inning. Josh Hicks led off the inning with an infield hit off reliever Michael Watkins. Pinch runner Singleton advanced to second on a wild pitch before Smith’s double.
“Coach said he wanted to see me hit one into the outfield,” Smith said. “I just tried to make sure I hit it.”
The Cardinals took a 3-0 lead in the first on a three-run homer by Watkins, but quickly fell behind on a barrage of Hornets’ hits.
Bruce and Pickering both hit triples, and Chillicothe tied the game with three in the first. The Hornets chased Benton starter Matt Payne out of the game after just two-thirds of an inning.
“Everybody has good days and bad days,” said Benton coach Mike Musser. “Today just wasn’t Matt’s day.”
Chillicothe added two in the second, and one in the third off Tommy Higdon before the Cardinals started their comeback. Benton took a 7-6 lead in the seventh after Luke Hendrix led off with a double, and was driven home by a Nathan Rich single.
Wednesday’s victory was Chillicothe’s second of the season over the No. 3 Cardinals. Smith said the Hornets always seem to be ready against Benton.
“We just seem to get more pumped up to face them,” Smith said. “It’s more fun when you know there’s competition there.”