Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
Last weekend, the Blair Oaks baseball team lost three games, failing to score in two of them.
The Falcons made strides on offense Saturday, but defensive hiccups ultimately proved too costly as Blair Oaks dropped two games to Kansas City-area schools at Vivion Field.
The Falcons lost 4-2 to Lee’s Summit and 5-4 to Lee’s Summit North.
“It seems like you address one issue, and another one comes up,” Blair Oaks coach Harv Antle said. “We started our bad stretch a week ago Friday at Eldon. We were shut out that night, and then we turned around and got shut out the next day. So hitting was a concern, and we’ve emphasized that in practice, and I thought we took much better at-bats today, and our approach was certainly a lot better.
“We doubled up their hits on the scoreboard (against Lee’s Summit North), but we doubled up the error column as well, and that’s something that we need to clean up.”
Clayton Graessle allowed Lee’s Summit two runs in the first inning of the opener when left fielder Conner Gibson hit a single to plate Ben Burnham and Ryan Laddish, who reached on a hit-by-pitch and an infield single, respectively.
Lee’s Summit pitcher Brad Botts faced the minimum until the third inning. Ryan Hoelscher reached on a single, Jacob Wilbers grounded into a fielder’s choice, and Alec Stieg poked his second single to move Wilbers to second. James Reinkemeyer’s ensuing line drive found grass between the second baseman and right fielder, and the Falcons had a run on the board.
The Tigers threatened in the third when Dawson Becerra advanced to third after reaching on an error, but Graessle stranded him with a strikeout.
Two hitters into the next inning, the Falcons evened the score. Brent Heckemeyer sent a line drive past the 300-foot wall in right field to tie it at 2.
“It looked to me like the ball was up in the zone, and he was able to get on time and drive the ball,” Antle said. “He’s been struggling a little bit early, so maybe that’s a pick-me-up for him and will help get him going in the next game and in the future as well.”
The Tigers looked poised to score in the fourth as well, with Botts hitting a single and pitch hitter Matt Cadwell stroking a double down the third base line. When Austin Polina flew out to right, however, Blair Oaks right fielder Mason Gipe fired a dart home to ruin Botts’ tag-up attempt and end the inning.
“That was big, at a crucial part of the game,” Antle said. “It helped us get out of that inning and kept us close and kept the game in the balance and gave us a chance to come back. … Pretty impressive play.”
Lee’s Summit finally broke through in the fifth. John Humphrey reached on a leadoff single, Becerra advanced pinch runner Zavian Hill with a perfect sacrifice bunt, and Ben Burnham singled him to third. First baseman Ryan Laddish grounded to Graessle, but Graessle tried to nab Hill, who had inched toward home plate, and failed to record an out on the play. Two batters later, a wild pitch scored Hill, and the Tigers had the lead for good.
”Anytime that you have an opportunity to make a play in the field, as long as it’s routine, you expect to make the play,” Antle said. “Our defense let us down, but we came back and made plays to get us out of jams there.”
Graessle stranded the bases loaded when Botts fell out to left, but the Tigers tacked on an insurance run in the sixth on a double, an error and a single.
The Falcons only had one hit, a Bryce Pritchett single, after Heckemeyer’s fourth-inning homer.
Graessle threw a complete game, allowing four runs on nine hits and two strikeouts. He stranded eight.
In the second game, Blair Oaks jumped on the board first, scoring on two infield singles and a James Reinkemeyer RBI groundout in the top of the first. The Falcons stranded the bases loaded, however, after consecutive hit batsmen when Dylan Hoelscher struck out looking on a full count.
Lee’s Summit North got on the scoreboard in the second inning, plating three runs on three hits and a walk thanks to RBI hits from Chase Overton and Aaron Meers. The Broncos scored again in the third on a fielder’s choice, a double and a groundout to go up 4-1. The Falcons on the other hand, wouldn’t score again until the fifth when Adam Schell reached on an infield single and Hoelscher drove him in with a single.
Lee’s Summit North scored a run in the fifth on two errors and a wild pitch. The Falcons wouldn’t go away, however. They scored twice in the final frame on two hits and an error, but Alec Sieg was stranded and the Broncos escaped with the win.
“That was encouraging,” Antle said. “There have been times where we have been less than competitive in this rough stretch that we’re in, and for them to stay in it, keep fighting until the very end and have a chance to come all the way back from behind … that’s good to see.”
Blair Oaks (4-5) returns to the field Tuesday at against Southern Boone in Wardsville.