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Cougars win tournament opener
by Dan Eckles
Apr 14, 2011 | 576 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Spanish Springs Cougars continue to excel in late-game situations. The SSHS club picked up their eighth win, in 18 games, in their final at bat Thursday, stealing a 4-3 victory from Novato, Calif. in the opening game of pool play at the Athletics Unlimited spring break prep baseball tournament.

Spanish Springs, which is co-hosting the local tournament with McQueen High, broke a 3-3 deadlock with a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to claim the walk-off win.

Cougars No. 2 hitter Garek Tauchen found himself on second base after a Novato error. Tanner Oates followed for the Cougars and reached safely when the Hornets' center field could not come up with a diving grab. With runners on second and third, the stage was set for Spanish Springs' Malcolm Anderson. The senior failed to execute a bunt play, but in the end, he stepped up and roped a walk-off double to plate Tauchen with the winning run and account for the final 4-3 margin.

"We've still got a lot of work to do in executing the small ball," Spanish Springs coach Ben Hofmann said. "We had three opportunities today where we didn't execute the bunt.

"Then again, this is not our first rodeo. We've played seven or eight games where it's come down to something like that (the final at bat). I'm very pleased our guys don't panic."

Novato (7-4), which is in Marin County, north of San Francisco, took a 3-2 lead with a trio of unearned runs in the top of the fourth frame.

Spanish Springs knotted the tournament tilt at 3-3 with a run in the fifth. Tim Epker struck out for the Cougars but reached safely on a dropped third strike that went for an error. Shane Lawson singled and then Epker swiped a base, leaving Cougars on the corners. Two outs later, Oates singled in Epker for the tying score.

Spanish Springs (15-3) got stellar pitching from Chad Little and Epker. Little worked the first five and 1/3 innings but did not get a decision. He struck out two and walked two while scattering three hits. He did not give up an earned run to the visitors.

Epker came on with a runner on and one out in the sixth. He gave up a leadoff double, which put Hornets on second and third. That was the only hit he gave up. He proceeded to induce a groundball out and fanned the next hitter to work out of the jam without giving up a run. Epker picked up the win in relief thanks to one and 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. He gave up the one hit and struck out two without issuing a walk.

"Both of our guys were outstanding," Hofmann said. "Chad has been our best relief guy and there's a very good chance we'll need him to make a start in the playoffs. So we wanted to get him that opportunity. He spotted pretty well and only allowed the three hits.

"Tim has been one of our best relief guys too. He can come in, in any situation, and he really responds. We've got a lot of confidence to bring him in, in a situation like that."

Novato starting pitcher Jake Barron was solid on the hill as well. The right-hander struck out 10 and walked three while scattering five hits in six innings of work. He also did not factor in the decision. Barron's cause was doomed by five Hornets errors on the day.

"We've struggled with walks. that's been our Achilles heel. When we throw strikes, we get outs," sixth-year Novato coach Bob Scheppler said. "Then we'll make a tough play and throw away an easy one. We're finding our way still.

"Spanish Springs made plays. It's a three-out game. When you give a team four or more that kills you."

Spanish Springs got on the scoreboard first, thanks to a pair of third-inning runs. Epker walked to initiate the modest rally. Two outs later, he scored on a Tauchen single. Tauchen raced home after an Oates single and Hornets error.

The Cougars have two tournament pool play games today. They host Head Royce of Oakland at 10 a.m. and then meet Carson at 3 p.m.

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