The last weeks previous to the beginning of the summer 대전오피 vacation were busy ones for the boys. They had to prepare for final examinations, and for those who had shirked their work through the term this was a period of grief and lamentation.

Bobby and Fred had done good work in their studies right along, and the coming tests had no terrors for them.

But there was another interest that held the attention of the boys to a degree greater, it is to be feared, than their studies.

The baseball fight that season between the teams composing the Monatook Lake League had been fiercer than ever before. All of the teams were comparatively strong, considering the age of the players, and the contests had been close and exciting. But in the end it had narrowed down to a contest between Rockledge and Belden, each of which had won and lost the same number of games. The crucial game was to be played by these two hot rivals on the Belden grounds, and feeling was at fever heat in each school.

While in fielding ability there was very little to choose between them, it was generally admitted that Belden had the “edge” on Rockledge in the matter of batting. This had been shown by the scores of the games that had already been played. The Belden tallies were much in excess of those rolled up by the Rockledge boys, and the former had a formidable list of three-baggers and homers. The Rockledge victories on the other hand were marked by small scores, and had mostly been won by the good pitching of Bobby in the box.

So the forthcoming contest had resolved itself in the minds of the boys into a struggle between heavy batting and good pitching. Which of the two would prevail?

The Belden boys thought that they could give the answer. They had never before felt so confident, and they were jubilant at the fine showing made by their team with the bat. It was freely predicted that Bobby would be sent to the bench before the game was half over. And with him out of the game, the Belden boys felt that they could simply romp in, for Howell Purdy, the other Rockledge pitcher, while fairly good, was admittedly not in the same class as Bobby.

But on the other hand, the Rockledge boys had seen Bobby too often “come through” to feel depressed at the prospect. They knew that he would have to face a fiercer attack than usual.

“But,” said Fred, “we are sure that before long Bobby will have those redoubtable sluggers eating out of his hand. The bigger they are the harder they fall.” And this fairly expressed the feeling prevalent among his mates.

Bobby himself said little, but worked away like a beaver to perfect his curves and slants and develop his speed. He had never felt in better trim, and in his secret heart had little doubt that he would pull out the victory. But he refrained from predictions, and to the questions that were showered upon him by his comrades merely replied that he was going to do his best.

The great day came at last and was marked by brilliant sunshine. This was a slight disadvantage for Bobby, because a cloudy day is reckoned as an asset to a pitcher, as it makes it harder for the batsman to gauge the ball. Of course this affected the Belden pitcher, too, but not to such an extent, as the Belden boys were not placing as much reliance on the pitching as Rockledge was forced to do.

The fact, too, that the game was to be played on the Belden grounds was, of course, an advantage to that school. The grounds themselves were more familiar to their nine, and they would have the greater number of rooters to cheer on the home team and rattle their opponents.

Still it was all in the game, and the Rockledge boys were in high spirits as they cavorted around the diamond in practice.

The stands were full of interested spectators and there was a great wall of “fans” surrounding the playing field. The Rockledge boys had come over in a body to encourage their team. Dr. Raymond himself had a foremost seat in the grandstand as a guest of the head of Belden school. The two men were the best of friends and laughed and chaffed each other on the merits of the respective teams.

Both nines showed up well in practice, making stops and throws and catches which showed that each team was at the top of its form. It was evident that the game was to be a hotly contested one, and when the bell rang the spectators settled down in their seats with the anticipation of a treat.

Rockledge, as the visiting team, was first at bat. The first man up went out on strikes and a chorus of cheers arose from the partisans of Belden. Fred, who came next, whipped a sharp liner to left. If it had been smartly fielded, it would have gone for a single, but the left fielder fumbled it for a moment and Fred by great running reached second. Then it was the turn of Rockledge to cheer. The hit availed nothing, however, for Barry went out on a pop fly to the pitcher and Sparrow sent a towering fly to right which was gathered in after a long run. The inning had ended without a score, and Belden came in for its half.

That proved short and sweet. Bobby whiffed the first batter that faced him on three successive strikes. The second man dribbled an easy one to the box that Bobby had no trouble in getting to first in plenty of time. The next batsman fouled off two in succession, and then Bobby struck him out with a fast high one that cut the center of the plate. No one had got to first, and the Rockledge rooters cheered Bobby lustily as he came in to the bench.

They felt still better when Mouser caught the ball on the end of his bat for a ripping three-bagger to center. The cheers turned to groans, however, when Mouser took a chance and tried to steal home. It was a rash play at that stage of the game, for no one was out, and even a sacrifice would probably have brought him home. As it was, the ball was waiting for him when he slid into the plate and he looked rather sheepish as he rose and brushed the dust from his uniform. Sheets laid down a clever bunt, on which by good running he reached first. Shiner followed with a daisy cutter between first and second that carried Sheets to third, though Shiner himself could get no further than the initial bag. The inning ended when Billy Bassett hit into a double play.

“That was an awful bonehead play of mine,” said Mouser regretfully, as he and Bobby walked out from the bench to take their places in the field.

“Don’t let it worry you, Mouser,” Bobby consoled him. “That was a whale of a three-bagger that you knocked out, anyway. Any one of us is liable to make a mistake.”

The second inning resulted in another blank for Belden. The first one up went out by the strikeout route. The next one proved a little more difficult, for he refused to bite at the balls that Bobby put over until the count stood at three balls and no strikes.

“Wait him out,” shouted Ormsby, the Belden captain. “He’s getting wild.”

The next ball split the plate for a perfect strike, but the batsman, obeying his captain’s command, let it go by. He refused to offer also at the next one, which also went for a strike. The count now stood three-two, and if Bobby was in a hole the batter was also.

Cool as an icicle, Bobby wound up and put all he had on a high fast one that fairly smoked as it went over the plate. The batter made a wild lunge at it but missed, and the ball sank with a thud in the catcher’s glove.

“You’re out,” called the umpire.

“That’s going some, Bobby,” cried Fred from short. “Keep it right up. They can’t hit you.”

This was a little premature, for the next man connected with the first ball pitched and sent it whistling over Bobby’s head. It had all the earmarks of a single, but Mouser redeemed his previous error of judgment by leaping into the air and making a superb catch that brought the crowd in the stands to their feet. The Rockledge rooters were jubilant, while the Beldenites were correspondingly depressed.

The next two innings passed without a score for either side. Both pitchers were doing excellent work, and while the Belden boxman, Erlich, was hit rather freely, the ball seemed to find a fielder in the way every time. Twice the Rockledge boys had men on bases, once by an error and the other time from a passed ball, but were unable to bring them around.

In the fifth inning, Rockledge broke the ice. Skeets led off with a rattling single to right. Shiner sacrificed him neatly to second. Billy sent a hot one between short and third that looked as though it would be good enough to bring Skeets home, but the ball was retrieved so smartly and thrown into home by the Belden left fielder that Skeets, who had rounded third and started on his homeward journey, saw that he could not make it, and had all he could do to scramble back to third. In the meantime Billy had reached second.

With one man out, Bobby came to the bat. The first was too high and he let it go by. The second was waist high and right in the groove, and Bobby swung at it with all his might. There was a sharp crack as the bat met the ball, and then the latter sped out almost in a line between right and center. Bobby dropped his bat and was off like a flash, while Skeets and Billy came galloping home.

As Bobby rounded first, he saw that the right and center fielders were still chasing the ball. By the time he had reached second the right fielder had picked it up and was steadying himself for the throw to third. The chances of the ball and batter getting there at the same time were about even. But two runs were in anyway, and Bobby knew that he could afford to take the chance. He put on extra speed and slid into the bag just a fraction of a second before the third baseman clapped the ball on him.

“Safe!” cried the umpire, and the Rockledge crowd went wild.

Erlich stiffened up then and let the next batsman down on strikes. Spentz, who came next, hit the ball hard, but it was gobbled up by the center fielder, and the inning was over with Bobby left on third.

Twenty-three times. But at any rate two runs had tallied, and the way the game was going those two runs seemed big enough to win.

CHAPTER V
THE WINNING HIT
The Belden boys came in for their half, fuming at the lead that Rockledge had gained but not a bit discouraged. Ormsby gathered them about him and urged them on, and their rooters broke out into vociferous cheers.

Weston, one of their heaviest batters and the head of their batting order, came to the plate swinging his bat in a menacing way. He glared at Bobby, who only laughed and sent over a fadeaway for the first strike.

The second ball was a hop and Weston caught it on the under side and sent it high in the air out toward center. It should have been an easy catch, for Devlin had plenty of time to get under it before it came down. But it was the very ease of the catch that was his undoing, for he let it go through his fingers.

Weston, like the good ballplayer that he was, had kept on running at full speed, even though he expected the ball to be caught, so that by the time the muff was actually made he had rounded first and was well on his way to second.

Devlin was rattled by his error and threw wild to the second bag. The ball went over Mouser’s head, and by the time it was retrieved Weston was roosting safely on third amid the jubilant yells of the Belden partisans.

Romney, the next one up, laid down what was intended to be a sacrifice bunt between short and third. Fred and Sparrow both went for it with such eagerness that they collided and were knocked head over heels. By the time Bobby had run over and recovered the ball Weston had easily made the plate and Romney had got to second.

These two “flivvers” in succession were likely to rattle any team, and in order to give his mates time to recover their self-possession, Bobby bent down and fumbled with his shoe laces until the umpire ordered him to play ball.

Then Bobby put on steam and fanned the next batter in three straight strikes.

He made the next one knock an easy bounder toward short. Fred was all set to grab it when the ball struck a stone and took a high bound over his head, rolling out to left field, while Romney made the dust fly as he legged his way to third and the batter reached first.

Howell Purdy, the substitute pitcher, who was playing left field, ran in for the ball. He saw that he could not get Romney at third, and threw to Mouser at second to catch the batter, who was making for that bag. But the ball was ten feet wide of the base and went into the field, while both Romney and his mate scored, making the score 3 to 2 in Belden’s favor.

The Belden boys fairly went crazy. There was a din of horn-blowing and catcalls exceeding anything so far in the game. Their coachers got out on the coaching lines and began a line of chatter designed to rattle their opponents still further.

But no matter how the rest of the team were shaken, Bobby absolutely declined to lose his nerve. He knew that until this inning was over at any rate the only thing left for him was to strike his opponents out. Any ball hit, no matter how easily it ought to be fielded, was liable to be fumbled or booted. So he summoned up all his courage and skill and made the next two fan in succession.

Many a pitcher would have been grumpy and sore at such support. He had not yielded a single hit or passed a man to first, and yet his opponents had made three runs and taken the lead. Yet Bobby’s face was as serene as a summer sky when he drew off his glove and went in to the bench.

Devlin and Howell were bitterly angry at themselves because of their errors, and Fred and Sparrow were limping from the effects of their collision, while the rest of the team were more or less upset by the sudden change in affairs.

“Never mind, fellows,” cried Bobby encouragingly. “Those fellows have certainly had the breaks of the game so far. That collision was an accident and we didn’t know that that stone in the infield would give that bad bound to the ball. But those things generally even up, and they may have their turn of bad luck next. Anyway, they’re only one run ahead and we have time to overcome that. Just let’s brace and we’ll beat them yet.”

But if they were to beat them it was not to be done in the sixth or seventh inning, for those chances passed without Rockledge scoring. Once they got a man as far as third, but there he stayed for want of the necessary hit to bring him in.

Belden was equally unable to score. Bobby was pitching like a demon and his opponents were swinging at the air. Four out of the six who faced him in those two innings went out on strikes, while a foul and a pop fly disposed of the others.

In the eighth inning the skies began to brighten for Rockledge. Erlich, who had pitched good ball up to that time, began to weaken. His fast ones no longer had their usual zip to them, nor were his curves so deceptive. Two hits in succession, followed by a base on balls, filled the bases, and then a wild pitch by Erlich permitted the man on third to score, thus making the game a tie. Belden braced then, and aided by a snappy double play prevented further scoring.

Try as they would, however, they could make no impression on Bobby’s pitching in their half, and the ninth inning opened with the score still a tie.