By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — There wasn’t much doubt, no drama, no wondering if the gap was wide enough to pull starter Michael Eggert (Wofford) from the mound and dig into the bullpen.
There was, thanks to the torrential downpour from the sky that ended the game in the top of the sixth inning, a quiet win for the DC Grays at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
They beat the South County Braves, 6-0 in what officially goes into the record book as a five-inning win, behind another hitless start by Eggert and some timely offense. Eggert, who was working a nine-strikeout perfect game when he was pulled at the end of the fifth against the Silver Spring T-Bolts on June 24, worked his second consecutive dominant outing, where he struck out two, walked one and (by technicality) pitched a no-hitter. He picked up his first win and hasn’t allowed a run in his past 10 innings. He has struck out 15 batters in 13 innings and walked just a single hitter. On June 13, his ERA jumped to six, but since he’s shaved it down to 1.39.
And his teammates rewarded his effort on the bump, a habit that the offense still looks to get into on a nightly basis, by burying the Braves before the rain moved over Southeast Washington. Cal Rucker (Georgetown), Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) and Scott Bandura (Princeton) all chipped in with hits and a run scored in the Grays’ five-run third inning. Cam Bufford (Grambling) provided the big hit with a lead-off home run in the fifth.
DC improved to 7-13, and with the Gaithersburg Giants losing to the Alexandria Aces, moved five games back of second place with 15 games left to play in the regular season.
Here’s how the week of ups and downs went for the Grays: They began the week 6-10, hoping to gain some ground on second place, which was just three-and-a-half games out of their reach. They had their ace on the bump, Tucker Alch (Catholic), who delivered 4 ⅔ innings of six-run (three earned) ball against the league’s best offense in the Big Train before turning it over to the bullpen. The Grays led 7-6 heading into the bottom of the eighth, only to lose by two runs by the time they walked off the field in the ninth inning.
They bounced back the next night with a convincing 15-10 win over South County, before a rain delay on Wednesday killed their momentum in a 12-4 loss to the Aces. Then on Friday night, nothing went right for the Grays in a 14-1 mercy rule loss to the T-Bolts.
But they saved one of their biggest surprises to emerge out of the rotation this summer for Saturday night. Eggert was somewhat of a wildcard for the Grays, the freshman didn’t pitch during his freshman year at Wofford, and began the season by making his first two appearances out of the bullpen.
And on somewhat of a whim, Eggert started against Silver Spring and rewarded the coaching staff with five perfect innings and earned himself another start. In a crowded rotation surrounded by top-flight talent in Cooper Vest (BYU), Jake Davidson (Kenyon) and Alch, Eggert has seemed to have gotten somewhat lost in the mix when talking about the Grays’ best starters.
But there Eggert was on Saturday night, struggling with his curveball, making use of his fastball and the location of it. He located it well, forcing 15 of the 16 hitters he faced into weak contact.
“My fastball and the location carried me through my start,” Eggert said. “I didn’t have my curveball at all, I might have thrown three of them in the third inning. I had a good change-up as well, and they played off really well together.”
He threw 57 pitches as the game dragged through the rain and into the top of the sixth before it was called. The lack of high-leverage situations allowed manager Reggie Terry to watch his pitcher pitch and not have to worry about having to look down towards the bullpen, which has had its struggles this season.
Aside from a walk in the second and a hit-by-pitch in the fourth, those were the only base runners Eggert would allow. He didn’t panic at all after the two runners reached base and forced soft ground balls to the infielders or lazy fly balls to the outfielders.
He strutted off the mound with oozing confidence at the end of every inning and walked back out to the mound more eager than he was the inning before.
There was no lapse at any point from Eggert — he shoved. And he shoved all night long.
The DC Grays will receive a quick two-day break but return to action on Tuesday, July 5 as they travel to Bethesda to take on the Big Train at 7:00 p.m.