Bulldogs ‘grind’ way past visiting BGA for district win

By Maurice Patton

COLUMBIA – There’s something to be said for winning without putting forth a winning performance.

Richie Estep doesn’t really want to hear it, though.

Coming off a loss Monday at Battle Ground Academy in Division II-A District 3 play, Estep’s Columbia Academy squad was trying to gain a split of the regular-season series Tuesday on its home field.

Despite committing four errors and having to pull starting pitcher Kavares Tears in the second inning, the Bulldogs picked up the split, as Bryant Beranek hit a pair of home runs in a 12-7 victory.

“It feels good after losing last night,” said Beranek, whose first-inning grand slam helped Columbia Academy (21-5, 9-3) overcome an early two-run deficit before his second shot to lead off the third inning helped restore order after the visiting Wildcats had cut a five-run margin to two.

“They’re a solid team. But it’s never fun losing.”

BGA (12-7, 8-4), looking to build on the momentum of that 3-1 win Monday, turned two Tears walks, a Ryan Casimer double and an error into a couple of first-inning runs. CA answered by sending 11 batters to the plate in the bottom of the frame, with a Damon Toombs single plating a pair before Beranek’s drive over the left-field fence. Tanner Ham, who reached on an error to lead off the inning, added an RBI base hit for a 7-2 cushion.

Though that turned out to be enough, Estep wasn’t sure – which was why, after six straight hitters reached with two out, he pulled Tears.

“We could tell he didn’t have it,” Estep said. “We left him out there to see if he could figure it out, but it just felt like it was time to pull him. We didn’t want them to get momentum.”

Landon Prentice doused the three-run Wildcat rally with a strikeout, and wound up limiting BGA to just two runs over his 5 1/3 innings while striking out 10.

“He does a good job in those situations of coming in and throwing strikes,” Estep said.

Offensively, meanwhile, the hosts kept adding on – following Beranek’s second homer with four runs in the fifth inning as Max Ballard singled with the bases loaded to drive in a pair before Tyler Stephens and Beranek each drew run-scoring walks.

“A lot of times, he’ll hit three, four, five flyballs in a row,” Estep said regarding Beranek, who drove in six of CA’s 12 runs on the night. “But in district games, he’s had some big hits to help us win games. I think of Grace Christian, Franklin Road Academy, Middle Tennessee Christian. And here, he drives in (six) in a five-run game. That’s the difference in the game.”

Although the Bulldogs picked up a much-needed victory, Estep is no less concerned with his team’s recent lull.

“We just grinded through it,” he said. “We haven’t played our best by any means this last two days. We’re doing stuff we hadn’t done all year, stuff you do early in the year. (But) they’ve proven they can flush it — each time we’ve lost on Monday, we’ve come back and won.

“That’s one of our strengths.”

Ethan Harden went 3-for-3 and scored three runs to lead the Wildcats offensively.

Columbia Acad. 12, Battle Ground Acad. 7

B 230 011 0 – 7 8 3
C 701 040 x – 12 6 4

Braden Iverson, Kace Buckles (2), Kenneth Lohmann (5) and Jake Fleser. Kavares Tears, Landon Prentice (2) and Max Ballard. W: Prentice. L: Iverson. HR: Columbia Acad. – Bryant Beranek 2.

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