STUARTBoth the Canadian Cougars and Haileyville Warriors scored early against the Stuart Hornets, but every time an opponent scored the Hornets had an answer.
Once Stuart’s pitchers found their grooves, opposing scoring stopped while the Hornets’ kept on going.
The Hornets scored in every inning of both games Tuesday, run-ruling the Cougars 11-3 and the Warriors 10-2 on Tuesday in Stuart.
With the wins, Stuart became the Pitt 8 conference champion, going 7-0 in conference play this season.
“We set out to win the conference and the conference tournament,” Hornets coach Jon Booth said. “We didn’t get (the tournament) done, so we put a lot of focus into trying to win the regular-season conference.”
Stuart improved to 16-10 with its wins. Canadian fell to 9-11 and Haileyville fell to 3-11.
Hornets 11, Cougars 3:
The Hornets looked unfocused early in their first game Tuesday, falling behind 1-0 on an RBI sacrifice bunt by Chance Tanner in the top of the first inning and then 2-1 on a sacrifice fly by Tyler Owens in the second. But Traynor Blasengame bunted his way to first with one out in the bottom of the second, then stole second.
“I just think our heads weren’t in it when we first came out,” Booth said. “I’d say the rain out yesterday, not getting to play, not doing our regular hitting, coming off a long holiday weekend. Not to make excuses, but ... we were a little bit sluggish.”
Canadian starting pitcher Hayden Hopper struck out Eric Justice in the second, but Zayne Goode lined one towards Chase Shearwood at shortstop. Shearwood tried to grab the ball just above his left shoe, but the ball popped out of his glove.
Knowing he didn’t have enough time to throw out Goode at first, Shearwood instead threw home. Blasengame beat the throw to tie the game 2-2.
Goode then stole second base and came home on a double to center by Grady Brewer. Brewer finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored and one steal.
“Just had to make sure to sit back, wait, and hit it,” Brewer said. Of his team’s third-inning turnaround, he said, “I think we just kinda decided it was time. We needed to play.”
After a perfect inning from Hornets starter Justin Lawrence, Stuart went back to work in the bottom of the third against reliever Daniel Lenox. Derek Beck singled with one out and stole second, Jacob Stopp walked, then both moved up a base on a passed ball.
Lawrence walked to load the bases, then Blasengame belted one through the drawn-in infield, scoring two runs. Blasengame added an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth, batting 3-for-3 with three RBIs, two stolen bases and a run scored.
“I try to see the ball,” Blasengame said. “No matter what pitcher comes up there, if you see the ball, then if you just take a hack you should be able to get it.
“At the beginning of the game, I think we just came in expecting to win. And then after that, we kind of just got together as a team and played together like we should.”
An additional Stuart run scored on a passed ball for a 5-2 lead. David Gaylor drew a walk in the top of the fourth, took second on a wild pitch and third on an error, but Lawrence struck out Owens looking to strand Gaylor and end the inning.
Justin Lawrence gave up three runs on four hits, two walks, a hit-by-pitch and six strikeouts. He held the Cougars hitless with runners in scoring position.
Stuart scored five runs in the bottom of the fourth for an 11-2 lead. Dillon Lawrence, Justin Lawrence and Blasengame all drove in runs.
Canadian’s Kaleb Stowers scored when Brewer dropped what would’ve been a game-ending popup in the top of the fifth, but Justin Lawrence got Lenox to line out to shortstop to preserve the eight-run lead and invoke the run-rule.
“We could’ve practiced today and threw in the bullpen, or we could come out here and we could get live action against a good team, a good opponent, and try to practice that way,” Canadian coach Brad Davis said.
Trying to keep Hopper fresh for Districts on Thursday, Davis said he kept Hopper on a 30-pitch limit, taking him out with two outs in the top of the first. Hopper’s ability to throw first-pitch strikes had kept the Hornets’ offense in check, but relievers Lenox and Tanner had less success.
Hornets 10, Warriors 2:
Drawing heavily from their bench and junior varsity squad, the Hornets still had too many bats and too much speed for the Warriors to keep up. Brewer led off the bottom of the first with a walk, took second on a passed ball and third on a bunt single by Blasengame.
Blasengame quickly stole second, then Beck knocked one into center field to drive in both for a 2-1 Stuart lead. Beck added an RBI groundout in the fourth, batting 1-for-3 with three RBIs and a run scored.
“Haileyville had one guy that threw about what we were used to, but other than that they threw it a lot softer,” Beck said. “So we all had to adjust to the slowness of the pitch. Waiting back has a lot to do with it. Their curveballs are a lot slower than their fastballs, so waiting back is a huge thing for those curveballs.”
Beck later scored on a passed ball in the first, as did Goode, who walked and stole second before scoring for a 4-1 lead. The sequence reflected a day in which the Hornets stole 21 bases and picked up 18 more on 17 wild pitches and passed balls in two games.
Seven Hornets runs also came via passed balls. With Justice on second base in the bottom of the fourth against Haileyville, the ball got away from catcher Matt Gee, and Justice rounded third and came home for a 7-2 lead before Gee could find it.
“We try to be really, really aggressive,” Booth said. “It’s something that we know that we need to do to carry on (in) the playoffs. We’re not going to line up and hit home run after home run. We’re not even really going to line up and hit a whole lot of doubles. We’re going to do smallball and run bases aggressively, and that’s (how) we’re going to have to score runs in the playoffs.”
Justice started on the mound for the Hornets. He struggled with his control at times, but once locked in proved difficult for Haileyville’s less-experienced hitters.
Justice struck out nine in a complete four-inning game, striking out the side in a perfect 1-2-3 top of the second. He finished giving up two runs on four hits, three walks and a hit-by-pitch.
“Whenever I go throw my fastball, I’ll turn it like I do my curve,” Justice said. “That’s what me and Coach (Booth) have been working on since the offseason, just getting my fastball where it doesn’t look like a curve.”
Justice hit Briley Cozad to start the fourth inning, and Cozad took second on a passed ball. Pinch-hitter Kiefer Holloway singled into right two batters later cut Stuart’s lead to 4-2.
Gee also singled to right, and both moved up on a wild pitch. But with two runners in scoring position, Justice struck out Aubrey Champion and got Kevean Stidman to ground out to second.
Haileyville’s other run came when Stidman walked with one out in the top of the first, then took second on a single by Seth Davidson. Davidson later scored on a passed ball for a 1-0 lead, but Justice struck out back-to-back Warriors with the bases loaded to avoid further damage.
“We weren’t able to produce in key situations,” Haileyville coach Zack Duffy said. “But hey, we got baserunners, and I’m pretty proud of this group today. But (we) missed some opportunities.”
Dillon Brewer’s walk led to Justice courtesy-running for him and scoring on a passed ball in the bottom of the fourth, then Grady Brewer drew another walk. Dillon Lawrence courtesy-ran, got to third on a stolen base and a passed ball, then came home on a wild pitch for an 8-2 lead.
With the bases now empty, Blasengame got his third hit of the game, singling to right. Blasengame stole his way to third, then scored on Beck’s groundout. Justin Lawrence walked, stole second and came home on Goode’s game-ending double to the center field wall.
Tuesday’s games were originally supposed to be a three-way played Monday, but they had to be rescheduled due to rain. With Canadian and Haileyville set to face each other at Districts today and with neither team in contention for the Pitt 8 title, the Cougars and Warriors opted not to play each other Tuesday.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.
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