Victory proved to only an elusive heartbreaker Saturday afternoon for the Bartlesville United Linen Braves baseball team.
Through the end of the sixth inning, the battlin’ Braves — which have five Pawhuska players on their roster — could smell triumph the way a hungry fox’s nose twitches at the scent of chicken.
Going into the top of the seventh, Bartlesville led visiting Tulsa NOAH, 3-1, and relief pitcher Scott Shaffer had dominated in the sixth inning.
The compact — but engaged — home fans at Bill Doenges Memorial appeared poised to deliver a winning ovation.
But, they never got the chance.
The NOAH Jaguars wrangled out four runs in the final inning and held on — thanks largely to the mastery of complete-game pitcher Sam Replogle — to win, 5-3.
As NOAH registered the final out — by retiring a Brave baserunner on an attempted steal of second base — the Bartlesville players could only chew on the emptiness of “what if?”
The loss dropped the Braves to 1-2 on the short season — suffering both setbacks by close margins.
Huskies playing for the Braves included Ryan Jones, Hunter Reed, Nick Edwards, Randsom Jones and Corbin McCarty. The Braves are guided by Pawhuska coach Pat McCarty and his assistant Jake Good.
Several of them have played key roles early in the season.
Saturday’s contest — the first of a scheduled twinbill — opened up like one might expect.
Pitching — with the gritty Seth Rogers on the bump for Bartlesville and Replogle chucking for the Jaguars — and defense dominated early.
In the top of the first, Rogers gave up a walk but then quickly escaped the inning, on a strikeout and a lineout to short stature second baseman McCarty — who elevated to Wilt Chamberlain eye level to snare the ball.
Replogle whiffed the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the first and got the next hitter to ground out — on the first pitch — to the third baseman.
NOAH clawed out a run in the top of the second after Replogle reached on an error. He advanced to second on John Fulton’s sacrifice bunt, stole third and scored on a passed ball to put NOAH on top, 1-0.
But, the Jaguars wouldn’t score again until the seventh inning.
The Braves — clad in dark blue jerseys and dark gray pants — didn’t stay down for long.
Randsom Jones drew a leadoff walk to open the bottom of the second and Chase Brim dropped down a sacrifice bunt.
With Jones tied to second base, Braves slugger Harris stood up and delivered.
With the count at 1-and-1 — after he fouled off a ball that slammed down on the metal roof of the stadium — Harris ripped an opposite-field streaking missile into right field. Jones streaked home from second while Harris pulled up at first base with a single.
Harris then advanced on a balk and a passed ball — but was standing 90 feet away from home plate when Replogle struck out the final batter of the inning and the score remained knotted, 1-1.
NOAH opened the third inning with back-to-back singles and a sacrifice bunt; the Jaguars — clad in white uniforms — appeared on the verge of ripping the game open.
But, Braves shortstop Scott Shaffer slammed the door on threat by turning an unassisted double play. He snagged the line drive near second base and let his momentum take him to the bag to force out the runner who was already halfway to third.
The Braves snapped the tie with a run in the bottom of the third — on a wormburning single that brought home Rogers — to go on top, 2-1.
The closest happened in the top of the sixth when NOAH loaded the bases on Rogers and prompted Braves head coach Pat McCarty to put Shaffer on the mound.
Shaffer retired the next two batters — on a strikeout and a grounder to Corbin McCarty — to slam the door.
The Braves then scored an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth after Shaffer crushed a leadoff groundball double. He scored on Brim’s bloop double down the right field line to stretch the Braves lead to 3-1 and push them to the final stretch to victory.
Ben Stephens crushed a RBI double to trim the Braves lead to 3-2; Stephens scored shortly after on a steal of third and an error to tie the game, 3-3.
NOAH went on to score twice more in the inning to go up, 5-3.
Corbin McCarty kept their hopes alive by reaching base on a two-out error — but then was retired, on an agonizingly close play at second, on steal try.