SULLIVAN TWP. — There was no doubting Thomas on this 68-degree day.
Every good team, regardless of sport, has an unsung hero come up huge in a clutch situation, and Derek Thomas was that young man Monday for Buckeye’s baseball team.
The senior uncorked a towering three-run home run to right field that changed the complexion of a Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division game at upset-minded Black River, helping lift the Bucks to a 7-4 victory.
Thomas’ opposite-field shot off curveball specialist Dylan Kmitt in the fourth inning wasn’t the game-winner — the Pirates tied the game at 4 before Buckeye scored three in the sixth — but everyone understood it flipped momentum because it came three batters after a two-out error.
“We talked at the beginning of the season that everybody at some point in the season is going to have an opportunity to shine — everybody,” first-year Bucks coach Mike Wolf said. “Tonight, Derek Thomas, our (No.) 8 hitter, hits a clutch, two-out, three-run homer when we’re dead in the water. That was the momentum-changer.”
Starting two sophomores and two freshmen in the infield, Black River (1-13, 1-9) entered the fourth leading 1-0 on a first-inning RBI single by ninth-grade catcher Carter Kocik, who neutralized Buckeye’s dangerous running game by throwing out two would-be base stealers.
Kmitt was cruising by throwing sweeping curveballs at an extremely high rate, and the inning began innocently enough with a groundout and fly out.
Everything changed when Freddy Wright reached on a routine grounder that was booted. Max Wilson doubled to tie the score, and Nick Swank followed with a walk to bring up Thomas.
The right-hander failed to get down a sacrifice bunt but worked the count full. He then bombed a sky-high fly ball to right that twisted up Dillon Bricker, and it bounced off the tile that lines the top of the fence for a 270-foot homer.
“I saw it good out of his hand and just put a nice swing on it,” Thomas said. “I didn’t mean to put it to right field, but it happened. That felt pretty good, and I’m glad I could come through for my guys.
“I was surprised it got out. Off the bat, I didn’t think it had enough to get out, but I saw their right fielder twist and turn and thought it was going to get down. Once I saw it get over I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’”
Black River answered with a two-run single by Devon McLean and tied the game at 4 on an error during a hit-and-run attempt. Kmitt (2-2) finally ran out of gas in the sixth, allowing a single and walking two before giving way to Matt Colegrove.
Buckeye (15-2, 8-1) finally went ahead for good on a two-run single by Adam Matras, and Rocco Parete scored from third when Matras intentionally got into a pickle that he eventually escaped from.
In the Bucks’ mind, the confidence to win came from Thomas’ homer and a quality relief effort from Bryce Layton (4-0), who allowed only one hit and struck out three over 3⅓ innings.
“We were pretty frustrated because we had just gotten the lead, but we stayed together and kept pounding the ball — putting it in play — and good things happened,” said Thomas, who had a sacrifice bunt in the sixth.
Black River entered having lost 19-of-21 dating to last season but worked counts well and moved runners when needed. The Pirates also scrapped to tie the game at 4 but simply ran out of magic late.
“I really liked the way they played,” first-year coach Jake O’Connor said. “Buckeye, they’re one of the top teams in the conference, and we hung with them the entire game.
“It’s just, in the fourth inning, one little thing can bite you in the butt, and that’s what happened. Four unearned runs in the fourth, it comes down to that.”
Buckeye 7, Black River 4
BUCKEYE 000 403 0 — 7 8 2
BLACK RIVER 100 210 0 — 4 3 2
WP — Bryce Layton (4-0) 3⅓ innings, 1 run, 0 earned, hit, walk, hit by pitch, 3 strikeouts. LP — Dylan Kmitt (1-3) 5⅔ innings, 7 runs, 3 earned, 6 hits, 4 walks, 5 strikeouts. Buckeye (15-2, 8-1) — Adam Matras 2 singles, 2 RBIs; Freddy Wright 2 singles, double, 2 runs; Max Wilson double, RBI, run; Nick Swank 2 walks, run; Derek Thomas three-run home run. Black River (1-13, 1-9) — Devon McLean 2 singles, 2 RBIs.