COPPERAS COVE — Dusty Brittain openly admits it. His team did not perform.
Fighting to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2008, Copperas Cove could not keep pace with Waco Midway as the Panthers slowly separated themselves before blowing the game wide open with a nine-run sixth inning en route to a victory.
Following the 17-1 run-rule defeat, Brittain did not mask his disappointment.
“It is hard to even think about it,” he said. “We didn’t do a lot of things right.”
The Bulldawgs only produced four hits, while allowing 15 to the Panthers, compounding the issue by committing four errors before the game was stopped midway through the sixth inning.
Despite the lopsided score, Copperas Cove remained competitive early, but things slowly slipped away.
The Panthers scored the game’s initial run in the first inning as designated hitter Dustin Vasek’s RBI single sent teammate Matthew Miles across home plate, but the Bulldawgs recovered. Copperas Cove starting pitcher Charlie Folger struck out two Midway batters to end the top of the first inning before the Bulldawgs’ offense took over.
Leadoff hitter Tim Bechtold reached base on a single, and teammate Jayson Cole, who followed in the lineup, connected on a double. One batter later, Kyle Winstead collected an RBI, scoring Bechtold to tie the game at 1-1.
It did not remain deadlocked for long, though.
Midway added five unanswered runs over the next two innings, scoring two runs on two hits in the second before posting three runs on three hits in the third. Meanwhile, the Bulldawgs’ bats were silent and no player was able to reach base.
“Not putting the ball in play hurt us,” Brittain said. “We could have scored several more runs if we would have just put the ball in play.”
The observation was evident in the fourth inning. Trailing 6-1, the Panthers practically loaded the bases for Copperas Cove as Midway pitcher Nathan Gonzales hit each of the first three batters, but the Bulldawgs could not capitalize.
Gonzales responded by striking out three consecutive batters to end the inning.
“That was tough,” Brittain said. “Midway was playing back, and all we had to do was put it in play. We weren’t out of the game by that point, and that would have allowed us to cut into their lead, but it started to get out of hand after that.”
The Panthers answered with a two-run fifth inning, increasing their cushion to 8-1, before the Bulldawgs would commit another costly mistake as baserunning miscues led to an inning-ending double play, and Copperas Cove never recovered.
Aided by a pair of Copperas Cove errors, Midway (21-4-1, 9-1 District 8-5A) scored nine runs in the sixth inning to practically secure the game and put the Bulldawgs’ backs against the wall heading into the final four games of the regular season.
Copperas Cove (11-9-1, 4-6) entered the evening trailing Harker Heights by one game for the fourth and final postseason berth, and the Bulldawgs’ schedule does not get any easier with games against Belton, Temple and the Knights — all teams ahead of Copperas Cove in the standings — looming.
“We’ve got to get better,” Brittain said. “The bottom line is we’ve just got to get better.”
Bechtold led the Bulldawgs in defeat, going 2 for 3 with a run scored, while Cole and Ryan Dorroh accounted for the team’s two other hits.
Moving forward, Copperas Cove travels to face the district-leading Tigers (16-8, 9-0) on Tuesday, and Brittain hopes to see a better showing from his players.
“We are still who we are,” he said. “We are still a good baseball team, but we’ve got to go prove it in a big game. That is what we have not done yet. We have not proven that we can win a big game, and obviously, next week, both are going to be big.”