Determination not in question in upset of Rock Bridge baseball team

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 | 2:39 a.m. CDT; updated 4:45 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Rock Bridge senior Tony Stiffler sat in the dugout for what would be the last game of his career.

Watching from the dugout had become routine for Stiffler, who has suffered through injury after injury throughout his high school career.

“High school ball has been really rough for me,” Stiffler said. “I haven’t seen much of the field.”

Stiffler said he couldn’t quit high school baseball for one reason: his teammates.

“I couldn’t quit on these guys,” Stiffler said. “This team means a lot to me, and I wasn’t going to give it up.”

So Stiffler watched as the Bruins, trailing 12-0, entered the bottom of the fifth inning.

Jefferson City senior Jordan Coons pitched a one-hitter through four innings. In addition to his nearly perfect four innings, Coons hit a two-run home run over the 375-foot sign in right field in the fourth inning. His mom chased after the ball and found it for his collection.

“I’ve been saying for weeks that there’s a chance that they can make some noise if he pitches,” Rock Bridge coach Justin Towe said. “There’s a reason he’s one of the best players in the state, he’s that good.”

No. 3 seed Rock Bridge lost 19-7 to No. 6 seed Jefferson City in a run-rule shortened six-innings in the first round of Class 4, District 10 tournament Monday in Jefferson City.

Entering the fifth, Rock Bridge (11-14) had to score three runs to keep the game going against the Jays (9-16). That’s when the Bruins and Stiffler showed their never-quit attitude.

With the run-rule hanging over the Bruins dugout, Towe sent Stiffler to the plate.

“I didn’t want to concede the game and, on the other hand, it’s just a baseball game,” Towe said. “I wanted to let them go out there and do something.”

When Stiffler walked to the plate for one of his few at-bats of his senior year, one thing went through his mind.

“I just told myself I wasn’t going to strike out,” Stiffler said.

When Stiffler stepped into the batters box, the PA announcer mispronounced his name. Stiffler, which is pronounced like the character in the movie “American Pie”, looked toward the press box, prompting the PA announcer to try again. This time, the PA announcer got it right and Stiffler gave back an affirming smile.

“It just felt really good to get on the field and get an at-bat,” Stiffler said.

Now, with his named correctly pronounced, Stiffler went back to his goal of not striking out. He looked at a pitch whiz by high for a ball. Then, on the next pitch, he hit a chopper to the second baseman, advancing the runner on first base to second.

The Bruins scored four runs in the inning to keep their season going before allowing seven runs in the top of the sixth. The Bruins then scored another run in the bottom of the sixth before conceding their last out. But not before senior Eric Clark fouled off so many pitches that the umpire ran out of balls.

“The bright side is we didn’t layover either,” Towe said. “On the other hand, it’s another disappointment for us because we haven’t done anything in this tournament. If someone said for the rest of your career, you had to coach these 20 guys, I’d be a happy coach. I knew they wouldn’t lay over.”

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