Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
WARDSVILLE — April showers might bring May flowers for some, but for the Blair Oaks baseball team they bring victories — eventually.
In a game postponed more than a month by rain, the Falcons defeated Versailles 7-3 on Monday, scoring all four of the the day’s runs after playing to a 3-all tie in two innings back on April 1.
It was more than appropriate for the game to be won by the May version of Blair Oaks.
“We’re a lot different now than we were then,” Blair Oaks coach Harv Antle said, “and we’ve finally been able to put some consistency into our game and we’ve strung together some wins.”
The Falcons, who lost 11 of their first 16 games, have now won four straight and five of their last six.
“I think we’re playing closer to our potential,” Antle said. “I’m not sure we’re exactly where we want to be, but we’re trending in the right direction.”
The game’s starting lineup set in April was a snapshot of how much Blair Oaks has developed in the 33 days since.
“Certainly the lineups that we’ve put together over the last few games before today look different than today’s did,” Antle said. “It’s amazing in just a little over a month’s time just how much things can change. Guys emerge and guys settle into roles and begin to fulfill jobs, and so when we looked at that lineup that we’re locked into, it was kind of a little bit of a different setup for us.”
The first adjustment was putting Clayton Graessle on the mound. Though technically pitching in relief of Jacob Wilbers, Antle said Graessle approached Monday’s outing as a start.
“We wanted a guy on the mound that was going to throw strikes, and Clayton has shown an ability to do that,” Antle said. “So we felt like that if we play good defense, if we don’t have those deep counts and we’re not walking guys and falling behind and having to serve up good pitches to hit, then we could pitch and play defense on our terms. Clayton was in a good position to do that for us today.”
Graessle was up to the task, allowing no runs on two hits in five innings of work. He struck out six and didn’t allow a walk — though he did hit a batter.
“No runs over five innings, you’ll take that every time,” Antle said.
Offensively, however, the Falcons kept in mind they were two innings in when Monday’s action began.
“We wanted to get off to a quick start, because essentially you’re playing a five-inning game, and so you don’t have as much time as you would in a normal game,” Antle said. “Sometimes in a normal game, you won’t do a lot of managing over those first couple of innings — you’ll just kind of see what develops and then go from there — but we wanted to push things from the beginning here.”
In the bottom of the third — their first trip to the plate Monday — the Falcons tried to get things going with a hit and run. The batter couldn’t make contact with the pitch, however, and Bryce Pritchett was caught trying to steal second.
“But still, we’re trying to set the tone there and take an early lead and be aggressive,” Antle said. “Because we don’t have a lot of time, and the longer that you leave a team in the game, the more risk there is at the end for bad things to happen.”
The approach turned to small ball in the fourth, and it paid off. Jordan Hair doubled to left field, and Dylan Hoelscher’s sacrifice bunt was fielded by the pitcher and thrown over the first baseman’s head, allowing Hair to score. In the fifth, James Reinkemeyer walked, reached third on an Adam Schell single and a Dylan Fifer sacrifice and scored when Heckemeyer grounded to the pitcher with one out.
“We decided to go the small-ball route and steal a base, bunt him over if we could and try to get that guy to third with less than two outs where you don’t need a hit to score him,” Antle said. “Because sometimes, you can have a well-hit ball but right at a guy and you don’t get anything out of it.”
The approach worked again in the sixth. After Hoelscher, who walked, took third on a Ryan Paschal single and scored on a wild pitch, the Falcons added an insurance run on a productive out. Paschal stole second, reached third on a groundout and scored when Zach Burns grounded out to the third baseman.
Blair Oaks has averaged 6.5 runs during its current win streak. The Falcons (11-15) look to keep the offense in gear when they play at 5:30 p.m. today at Battle.
Blair Oaks also defeated Versailles in the JV contest, winning 16-0. Brenden Brown and Thomas Verslues had two hits each, and Clayton Backes was the winning pitcher.