VANDALIA – It was only the first inning, but it was a significant turning point in the game.
After South Central scored five runs in the top of the first inning, Vandalia responded by loading the bases with the first three batters in the bottom of the frame.
Senior Kyle Bray recovered, however, striking out the next three hitters to end the inning and help propel the Cougars to an 11-3 victory.
“It was big for our pitcher to get out of that jam,” said South Central coach Curt Jones. “He was pretty pumped up when he came back in.”
Bray gave up a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs, but needed just 12 pitches to strike out the next three batters and get himself out of the jam.
The Vandals have struggled with the bases loaded this season, and coach Luke Hohlt said that missing out on scoring in the first inning affected his players throughout the rest of the game.
“That hurt,” he said. “We felt that for five or six innings, and we can’t keep loading the bases and not scoring a run.
“We have to believe that we can come through in the big spots.”
South Central (5-6) batted around the order in the top of the first, using four hits, two sacrifices, a walk and a hit batsmen to get its runs.
Sophomore Noah Powless drove home senior Fischer Tharp on a sacrifice fly, and senior Austin Schwarm hit a bases-loaded ground-rule double to score senior Dan Diss and Bray.
Senior Shawn Meyer followed with an RBI single, and senior Rudy Hablewitz drove in a run on a sacrifice fly.
Jones said that while the Cougars have been inconsistent overall this season, the offense has made strides recently, and that may be happening because Jones is now tracking quality at-bats instead of just hits.
“It’s a system that rewards them for moving runners or working deep into the count,” Jones said. “You can have positive things, even if you made an out.
“This rewards them for doing good things, and our guys are really paying attention to it.”
Senior Heath Hoffmann hit a two-run double in the second to highlight the three-run inning for South Central, and a two-run single by Tharp in the fifth inning forced the Vandals (3-7) to score in the bottom of the fifth to extend the game.
Vandalia took advantage of a walk and a pair of South Central errors to get that run, forcing the Cougars back onto the field with a 10-1 lead.
Freshman Brett Harmeier drove in a run for the Cougars on a fielder’s choice in the seventh, and the Vandals continued to battle to the last out by scoring two more runs in the bottom of the seventh.
Senior Leyton Godoyo started that rally with a bunt up the first base line, beating it out for a single before advancing to second on a throwing error.
He stole third base and scored on a double from sophomore Jake Bowen, who would later score on a wild pitch.
“It was big for the team to not give up,” Hohlt said. “We didn’t just lay down and lose 10-0; we scored a few runs, even though we knew we probably weren’t going to win.
“But there are things we learned in this game that could help us in the future,” he said. “If you just give in, you can’t learn those lessons.”
Monday, April 15
South Central 11
WP: Bray; 4 IP, 6 K
LP: Michael Wells; 5 IP, 0 K
Cougars: Tharp, 3-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 runs, SB, BB; Diss, 2-for-4, RBI, 2 runs, BB; Meyer, 2-for-3, RBI, run; Hoffmann, 1-for-2, 2B, 2 RBI, run, BB; Schwarm, 1-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI, run, SB, BB; Powless, 1-for-4, RBI, sac fly; Drake Ritter, 1-for-3; Bray, 1-for-3; Hablewitz, RBI, run, sac fly; Harmeier, RBI, 2 runs.
Vandals: Levi Carroll, 2-for-3; Bowen, 1-for-4, 2B, RBI, run; Godoyo, 1-for-2, run, SB, 2 BB; Collin Nestleroad, 1-for-4; Aaron Harter, run; Wells, BB; Matt Beck, BB; Carson Smith, BB; Zach Schaal, BB.