By John Bohnenkamp
Gary McClure knew three things had to happen as Ben Nippolt’s fly ball was dying in short right field.
The game was tied in the 12th inning, the bases were loaded, and there was one out.
So McClure, the Burlington Bees manager who was coaching third base, thought baserunner Chase Honeycutt, standing to his left, had to try to score.
“There was a doubt,” McClure said. “But I figured everything was on the line, everything was wild right now. I make them catch it, I make them throw it, and catch it again. That’s my thought.”
Alton River Dragons right fielder Blake Burris made the catch. He made what looked to be a perfect throw.
Catcher Bryce Zupan, though, didn’t catch the throw, and Honeycutt stepped over Zupan’s failed glove and touched home plate to give the Bees a 7-6 win on Tuesday night at Community Field.
“If he gets thrown out, I’m the goat,” McClure said. “Instead, we win the ballgame, which is all that matters.”
The Bees (7-4) snapped out of a two-game funk and are a 1/2-game behind the Normal Cornbelters in the Prospect League’s West-Great River Division.
Honeycutt knew what McClure wanted.
“He said, ‘Tag up and go.’ I was ready. I said, ‘I’m going,’” Honeycutt said. “When I saw it come in, I thought I’ve either got to run him over, or make a play. And then he just dropped it and missed it.”
“I thought he was going to be out by a mile,” McClure said. “He shouldn’t have went, there’s no doubt. But I wanted them to make the play. Sometimes when everything is wild as they were at that point, things work out.”
A baserunning decision by Honeycutt early in the inning got things going. He was hit by a pitch from Geoff Withers (0-1) with one out, and when Marcos Sanchez singled to center field, Honeycutt raced to third, beating the throw from Harry Padden.
“When I was at first, I was thinking that if anything gets through the infield, I’m going,” Honeycutt said. “The grass is thick out there, and we’re in the 12th inning and they were tired. So I made them throw it, and luckily I got there in time.”
Sanchez moved to second on defensive indifference with Nathan Ebersole at the plate. Ebersole was then intentionally walked, bringing Nippolt up for the game-winning sacrifice fly.
The Bees trailed 5-0 after the first two innings, and 6-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. They scored four runs with two outs in the eighth, capped by Jackson Jones’ two-run home run, then tied the game in the ninth when Nippolt scored on a fielder’s choice.
“That’s how this team is,” Honeycutt said. “No matter what inning, we’ll put up runs.”
Bees starting pitcher Garrett Moltzan lasted just 1 2/3 innings, but relievers Jackson Gray, Tom King and Garrett Langrell (2-0) held the River Dragons to just one run the rest of the game.
King pitched five scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, while Langrell allowed one hit and struck out two in the last three innings.
“To come in and get the job we got relief-wise, that’s outstanding,” McClure said. “Take your hats off to those guys. Gray, Langrell and King, they all did a great job.”
Photo: Chase Honeycutt (12) scores the winning run after Alton catcher Bryce Zupan dropped the throw in the 12th inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)