After breaking up a no-hitter in the top of the seventh inning, the Burlington Beers scored five runs to defeat the Ancaster Cardinals 5-2 and eliminate them from the Golden Horseshoe Baseball League playoffs on Sunday night.
The Beers rode a dominant seven-inning performance by right-handed ace Cam McKnight, who also ended opposing starter Ryan Hands’ no-hit bid in the seventh and final inning.
His single sparked the rally that saved their season, but it was McKnight’s matching of Hands’s near-perfect outing that gave them the chance to come back.
“I knew he wasn’t going to give up much. I knew one or two runs was going to be pretty much all [the team] could stand… to come back,” McKnight said, following the game.
“Two was enough. That was on me, and I had a feeling the boys were going to come back.”
Through six innings, Hands had seven strikeouts and had faced only one more batter than the minimum. The left-hander had thrown 95 pitches, but showed no signs of difficulty as he came out to start the seventh.
McKnight changed that immediately.
After hitting a deep fly ball in his first at bat, McKnight pulled it into left field for the Beers’ first hit of the game.
Brandon MacKay then hit a ground ball to the second-baseman, who bobbled it on the baseline. McKnight leapt over the crouching middle-infielder on his way to being safe at second.
As the Beers threatened with two men on and no outs, Hands got yet another ground ball that did not result in an out, as the throw to third to get the lead runner went awry.
A single by Kyle Nicoletta cut the lead to 2-1, but the Cardinals had bigger problems.
Nate Tennant – who had hit an incredible .500 throughout the course of the entire season – was next in the batting order.
The team’s RBI leader smashed a double to the outfield, driving in two more runs, with the second coming on a head-first slide by Josh Grassick to avoid a throw from the outfield.
The Beers tacked on two more via a bases-loaded walk and a sacrifice fly, and McKnight slammed the door shut in the bottom of the seventh by inducing three groundouts.
He ended the evening with a complete game victory, throwing only 87 pitches and striking out nine while only allowing four baserunners – none after the third inning.
Burlington Coach Jason Hogan knows the top-seeded Padres await them in the finals, but with pitching like McKnight available – he sported a sparkling 0.30 ERA through 23 innings in the regular season – he hardly seemed concerned.
“They have one hell of a team, and they won last year.” the coach said, before noting the Beers had a record of 2-1 against the Padres during the regular season. “We play really well against them, and you know what, we’re not intimidated by those guys at all.”