Little would have led all Northern 4A pitchers in earned run average if he had qualified, but the senior right-hander fell two innings of short of qualifying for that distinction. He’ll just have to settle for plenty of praise from his coach. He got just that Wednesday after shutting the door on the Reno Huskies and helping Spanish Springs to a 7-3 win in a winners’ bracket game of the Northern 4A Baseball Tournament.
“Chadd Little has been outstanding all year,” Hofmann said. “There is not an adjective to describe how good he’s been. What a relief it is to have a guy like that down in the bullpen."
Little came on with a runner on first and nobody out in the fifth inning. He proceeded to toss three scoreless innings, giving up one hit while striking out one and issuing no walks.
In the sixth, Reno got a runner on with a single to right field that probably should have been caught but a Cougars outfielder fell down pursuing the play. After a fly out, it looked like Little had induced a ground ball for a double play. But SSHS shortstop Jake Bray made a hard, errant flip to second base that Tanner Oates could not handle and Reno had two runners on.
It did not faze Little, he just got a Reno hitter to pop up and a ground ball out to second base, nixing the Huskies’ threat. In the seventh inning, with Reno clinging to its last offensive hopes, Little retired the side in order, preserving the Spanish Springs win.
“He just gets outs. He gets us ground balls, fly balls and double-play balls,” Bray said of his effective pitching teammate. “His windup is kind of weird so it keeps guys off balance. It’s nice to play defense behind him.”
Not to be forgotten was the solid outing of Cougars starter Dallas Mellum. The crafty southpaw collected the pitching win, leaving with a 6-3 lead in the top of the fifth. Mellum scattered seven hits while walking two and striking out one in four-plus innings of work.
“If you would have told me Dallas would go four and give up three, I’d say ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’ He did everything you ask a starting pitcher to do, keep you in the game.”
Spanish Springs took control of the game in the top of the fifth. The visiting Cougars broke a 3-3 deadlock by scoring three runs in the key inning. Chase Kittilsen reached on an infield single and Kendall Murphy followed with a fielder’s choice, leaving Cougars on first and second with two outs.
Malcolm Anderson bounced a single back up the middle that plated both Kittilsen and Murphy. Tim Epker followed and mashed a ball that bounced off the center-field wall for an RBI single that forged the guests on top 6-3.
In the top of the sixth, the Cougars tacked on another insurance run. Matt Mannens singled. Jake Bray walked and Kittilsen laced a single to score Mannens and account for the final 7-3 lead.
“Give credit to Spanish Springs. They played good baseball,” Reno coach Pete Savage said. “They executed their situational hitting when they needed to ... We just didn’t have it today. But we’re a good team. We believe in our guys. We’ll come back tomorrow and be ready to go.”
After Reno got on the scoreboard first, posting a second-inning unearned run, Spanish Springs responded with three runs in the top of the third. With two outs, Bray was hit by a pitch and Oates crushed a two-run dinger, giving the Cougars their first lead of the day, 2-1. Kittilsen kept the momentum on the Cougars’ side when he stepped up next and walloped a solo round tripper for a 3-1 score.
“Six of our runs were driven in with two outs. I like to say two-out hits get you to heaven,” Hofmann quipped. “In this case, they helped us beat a very good team.
“We just had a couple of good (offensive) innings. We’ve preached all year ‘get the next guy to the plate.’ When you do that, good things happen.”
Reno (26-7) did not go away early. The Huskies added a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth to knot the score 3-3. That’s as good as it got for the hosts. They did not even get a runner to third base the rest of the way.
Spanish Springs (24-8) will play tonight at 6 p.m. against Manogue. The Northern 4A foes are the only two undefeated teams left in the double-elimination tournament.
“Winning in the playoffs and beating Reno is not an easy thing to do,” Oates said. “This is about as good as it gets, but we’re not content. we want to win tomorrow.
“Each game gets tougher as you advance in the bracket and the teams get hungrier as they move on.”