BRIMFIELD -- For Dennis Dever, Woodridge baseball's 3-1 loss at Field was all too familiar.
The Bulldogs put runners on in every inning, including two apiece in the fourth, fifth and sixth, but stranded 10 in a losing effort.
"[Stranding base-runners] has been the story of our season," Dever said. "This game was very indicative of what we've done all year."
As a result of their series sweep at the hands of the Falcons (10-0, 7-0 PTC Metro Division), the Bulldogs (6-3, 5-2) face an uphill battle, at least as far as a conference championship is concerned.
"We're going to get to where our capabilities are," Dever said. "Right now, we're still not playing to our potential, and once we do, we will be a pretty good team."
Defending Metro champion Field rode a three-spot in the third inning to victory April 19. After the Falcons took their 3-1 lead in the bottom of the third, the teams exchanged zeroes the rest of the way in a crisply played game filled with hard fastballs and beautiful running catches.
The win followed an 8-6 win by Field at Woodridge April 18, putting the Falcons in the driver's seat in the Metro Division.
"Our coaching staff and our team has the utmost respect for Woodridge and Dennis," Falcons coach Joe Peterson said. "Those were two really well-played baseball games."
Field senior second baseman Nate Rorrer started the Falcons' third-inning rally with a tapper that died on the third-base line. Junior catcher Lincoln Hackim kept the inning alive with a two-out walk. Senior shortstop Rusty Shaffer doubled both in with a first-pitch drive to the left-field fence.
"I was just waiting for the pitch that I wanted to hit and it happened to be the first one, so I took advantage of it," Shaffer said. "I thought it was going out at first."
Bulldogs junior left fielder David Massey gave spirited chase. Dever said Massey got a terrific jump on the ball and had it in his glove before hard contact with the fence jarred the ball loose.
Senior starting pitcher Austin Black's seeing-eye roller between first and second doubled Field's lead to 3-1.
Black made it stand on the hill, earning his fifth win of the season with five one-run innings. Except for a strenuous fourth when he threw 27 pitches, Black was efficient, tossing 15 or fewer in each of his other four frames. He recorded a number of quick outs, with 11 of 23 batters faced lasting three pitches or fewer. In the third, for example, after yielding a leadoff base hit, he coerced three straight fly outs on 11 pitches.
"Usually first-pitch strike, I try to get it, paint the corners, jam them up on the inside," Black said. "Every time they hit the first-pitch strike, they'd usually pop out or ground out."
In the fourth, Woodridge put runners on first and second with one out, but Black struck out the next two batters on full-count heaters to get out of the jam.
In the fifth, Black relied on superb defense behind him. With a runner on first and one out, Bulldogs senior shortstop Preston Clark smashed a shot that twisted toward the left-field line, but senior Dominic Smith was able to run it down. Zane Patterson, Woodridge's starting pitcher, followed with a liner to put runners on first and second, but Black got out of the inning by coercing a fly to center.
The Bulldogs' final big threat came in the sixth when a dropped pop-up put runners on first and third with two outs for Jake Margroff, who had already lined a single and a double on the afternoon. This time, Field senior reliever Landon Westover was able to get the Butler commit to fly to center.
"For our kids to make quality pitches in those situations against a very good hitter was great execution on our part," Peterson said. "Our toughness the last two days was outstanding. They have a very good hitting team. To put those guys on base and be in those tough spots was very difficult. Pitch execution was great by our pitchers against a very good hitting lineup."
Indeed, that powerful Bulldogs lineup sent a number of shots into the gaps that could have turned the game around -- the problem was the Falcons outfield was simply too quick, getting terrific jumps and hauling in seemingly every ball within the realm of possibility.
Field senior Jacob Godfrey came in to play center after Westover moved from center to the mound and immediately made three catches in two innings. In addition to catching Margroff's sixth-inning fly, he made a stunning grab in the left-field gap in the seventh, based off a perfect jump, and a similarly beautiful catch in the sixth.
"That's part of the game of baseball," Dever said. "You hit the ball hard and good teams make those plays and that's what they did. That was the difference in the game."
Margroff was deadly throughout the afternoon for Woodridge. He doubled to lead off the game, sending a deep drive to right-center field and scoring on Patterson's liner over Black's head. He worked a masterful eight-pitch at-bat to lead off the third, ultimately sending a liner over the second baseman. Showcasing power early, he flashed speed in his third at-bat, nearly beating out the throw on a hard grounder to second base.
"That kid is a player," Peterson said of Margroff. "There's a reason why he's going where he's going. He's such a tough out. Our infield knows what kind of speed he has. Anytime he puts a ball in play, they're antsy."
Patterson also had a nice day, with two singles at the plate and five strong innings on the mound. He yielded four hits and a walk, striking out seven. He took particular advantage of the bottom of Field's order, holding the five through eight spots hitless in eight at-bats, including seven strikeouts.
"He was throwing pretty hard," Shaffer said. "He was probably one of the hardest pitchers we faced so far this year."
Bulldogs senior Kasey Kelleher was dominant in his inning of relief, notching three strikeouts.
"Kasey throws hard," Dever said. "He had a nice changeup and a curve that he threw, too, for a couple of strikeouts."