By ADAM SHINDER
CANAJOHARIE -- One after another, the members of the Canajoharie High School baseball team stepped to the plate Thursday against Schoharie Indians pitcher Conner Brown and proceeded to do the exact same thing -- pound yet another easily playable groundball into the beige-hued infield grass.
The long succession of grounders -- 16 of them, to be exact -- were all that Brown needed to spin a complete-game two-hitter, despite racking up just three strikeouts, and send the Cougars to a 6-1 loss that left head coach Brent Watterson frustrated over his team's overall effort.
"We didn't hit, we didn't make outs when we had to and our pitching wasn't good enough," Watterson said.
The left-handed Brown didn't overwhelm the Cougars, but he did systematically and efficiently shut them down. With a sharp fastball that bore in on the hands of Canajoharie's exclusively right-handed lineup, Brown induced grounder after grounder to be weakly tapped back up the middle.
Canajoharie had just one hit through the first six innings -- an infield single from Buck Anderson that went in and out of the glove of diving Schoharie shortstop Steven Brooks -- and didn't manage its second until Joe Winsman slapped an RBI single in the seventh inning to bring Mike Shariff home with the Cougars' lone run of the game.
Winsman said going up against Brown was much different than going up against the only left-hander the Cougars see in practice, Devon Russell, who allowed three runs over three innings in relief of Canajoharie starter Zack Ouderkirk.
"We only have one lefty that we can take batting practice off of, so that's a big change," Winsman said. "Devon throws a lot different. He throws more off-speed stuff, (Brown) threw hard lefty stuff coming in on your hands. It was tough to pick up."
The Cougars' first loss of the season -- in a game where Schoharie was the home team on the Cougars' home field -- was especially frustrating for Watterson considering the team's performance in banging out five runs and 11 hits Tuesday against Saratoga Central Catholic in a game that was suspended due to darkness in the seventh inning and will be completed at a later date.
"I don't understand how we can play a game like we did against Spa Catholic and then come out here and not hit," Watterson said.
Schoharie got all the offense it needed in the bottom of the third inning, when a two-run single by Braden Guernsey and an RBI hit from Noah Valvo gave the Indians a 3-0 lead and ended Ouderkirk's afternoon after three innings and 57 pitches.
"The boys attacked the ball. It was good to see," Schoharie coach Lenny Coons said.
The Indians got a run apiece in each of the final three innings off Russell to cement the lead. Canajoharie scraped together a run on Winsman's RBI single in the seventh inning and loaded the bases with one out, but Brown retired Dillan Veeder on a fielder's choice and Jace Fox on a pop-up in foul territory to avoid any late drama.
"We've got to work more as a team. That's our biggest problem right now," Winsman said. "We've got to learn to play the other team instead of playing against ourselves."
As frustrating as Thursday's loss was, it left Winsman and his teammates itching to head back onto the diamond today for the Cougars' first true home game against Galway at 4:30 p.m.
"We need to redeem ourselves," he said. "Tomorrow, we've got to make sure we've got our heads in the right place."
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