The final pitch in his home park led to a strikeout, and a milestone at that.
More importantly, Christian Ruebeck had put the Denison Yellow Jackets on the verge of a victory against their rivals just a half inning after starting the only stretch of the night which saw any runs.
With his future coach, Oklahoma’s Skip Johnson, watching from the stands with a radar gun showing plenty of pitches in the 90s, Ruebeck notched his 100th strikeout of the season as Denison defeated Sherman, 4-0, in District 10-5A action at Denison on Monday night in a game moved up to avoid impending bad weather on Tuesday.
“Christian made some big pitches when he had to,” Denison head coach Charles Bollinger said. “There were chances on both sides. I didn’t know when there’d be a run.”
The teams will close out the regular season at Veterans Field in Sherman at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Denison (15-14, 8-6) clinched the third seed for the playoffs with the victory and will face the District 9-5A runner-up in the bi-district round next week.
Sherman (10-16, 4-10) was eliminated from playoff contention with the loss. If the Bearcats had won, they would have gone into Friday’s game still in the hunt, needing a win and another East victory over Princeton to force a three-way tie for fourth. It is the second straight season Sherman went into the final week in the mix before coming up short.
“To have a chance last week of the year, it’s disappointing,” Sherman head coach Justin Jennings said. “We’ve competed well, just haven’t been good enough.”
Ruebeck scattered four hits and three walks and hit a batter to go with nine strikeouts before hitting the 110 pitch limit on the second out in the seventh. Garrett Maxwell got the final out after Ethan Bedgood’s infield single to second.
Blaise Bentsen, in his final start, matched Ruebeck in a pitcher’s duel that remained scoreless until the bottom of the sixth. He surrendered just two hits and a walk through five frames.
“He did what he’s done all year; give us a chance to win,” Jennings said. “We had the opportunities. We had guys in scoring position. Just get one. We could probably make that work.”
Ruebeck reached on an error to open the inning before D.J. Hester made a diving catch in right center to take away extra bases from Cayden Earnhart and keep the game tied for the time being. Maxwell was hit by a pitch and Wheeler came to the plate like so many batters before him, including him twice — with at least one man in scoring position.
Wheeler doubled to right center to bring home Ruebeck and after breaking the ice the Jackets were able to tack on to the lead.
“Cam came through big,” Bollinger said. “He had a couple opportunities to come through earlier and he didn’t let that affect him. He’s done a good job for us.”
Sherman brought the infield in and Austen Patterson hit a smash back through the infield with enough behind it to get to the right center gap for a two-run double.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Bollinger said. “We pulled him up as a hitter. He’s not intimidated. His swing as some power.”
Denison made it 4-0 when Jack Condit beat out an infield single right at the third base bag with two outs
Both teams had chances, seemingly every half inning, to break the scoreless tie.
There were two runners left on by Sherman in the sixth. Blake Steele singled up the middle with one out and Hester beat out an infield single to short with two away. Ruebeck struck out the side in the inning, however, to push his total to eight at that point.
Tate Bethel led off the fifth by reaching on an error and then moved up on a groundout to first. A pair of strikeouts anchored him there as the double shutout continued.
“He got to another gear with guys in scoring position,” Jennings said.
The Jackets had two runners on in the fourth with a one-out error and then a walk by Maxwell before Bentsen induced a pair of pop-ups to keep the zeros on the board.
Sherman put a runner at third with two outs in the third following Bedgood’s single to left and a pair of groundout but Ruebeck avoided further damage with a strikeout.
Denison wasted a golden scoring chance in the second inning. Earnhart reached on an error to open the frame and an error on Maxwell’s bunt put runners at the corners. Maxwell then stole second but the Jackets were still unable to push a run across.
Wheeler and Patterson grounded back to Bentsen and Logan Tilley flew out to center to end the threat.
The Bearcats loaded the bases in the second with a two-out rally — Hester singled and Garrett Browder and Bethel walked. Nick Blankenship hit a high one-hopper to short but Luke Kirkbride fired to first to keep the game scoreless.
“I didn’t think he’d get anyone out on that,” Bollinger said. “That was clutch for us.”
Sherman also put a pair of runners on in the top of the first inning. Bethel led off with a walk and Bentsen was hit by a pitch with two outs before Ruebeck got out of the frame unscathed.