Thomas Hentrich’s fourth-inning grand slam knocked the wind out of the VCHS baseball team Monday, turning a scoreless pitcher’s duel between Hentrich and VCHS sophomore TK Kinkead into a comfortable 4-0 Alton-Marquette lead.
Fortunately, the Vandals were eventually able to get their breath back.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t in time to pull out a come-from-behind win on an otherwise picturesque Senior Day, as a seventh-inning rally fell a little short in a 5-3 nonconference loss to the Knights.
Bolstered by his prodigious four-run blast over the left-centerfield fence, Hentrich held the Vandals to just one unearned run and three hits over the first six innings.
But Vandalia answered coach Luke Hohlt’s challenge to close the game strong in the seventh inning, finally getting to Hentrich before running out of outs.
Despite the setback, Hohlt was encouraged by the late charge – especially considering the Vandals need momentum going into a busy final week of the regular.
‘I told them we need to finish strong,’ Hohlt said. ‘It doesn’t matter if we win or not – if we finish strong it’s going to help us the rest of the week. And I felt we did.
‘You’ve got to play hard for seven innings. I feel like we’ve gotten down a little bit (in recent games), feeling sorry for ourselves or just feeling upset with ourselves for what’s going on in the game, instead of believing you’re going to turn it around at some time.’
The Vandals might have completely turned things around if not for some bad luck in the seventh.
After Chad Elam led off the inning with the Vandals’ first walk of the day, a grounder by Ryan Thiele was booted at short.
Unfortunately, the ball was deflected directly to the Knight’s second baseman as he was cutting toward the bag, forcing out Elam at second.
Brenden Wasmuth followed with a fly ball to center for the second out, before Dallas Gray kept the Vandals alive with a single that would have likely loaded the bases if not for the unfortunate bounce on Thiele’s grounder.
Mitch Whightsil followed Gray’s hitup with a two-run double to the right-field fence, cutting Marquette’s lead to 5-3 and bringing the tying run to the plate.
But a visibly tiring Hentrich was able to avoid a complete meltdown by getting Jared Herker to ground out to second to end the game. If not for the aforementioned fortunate Marquette bounce, Whightsil would have represented the tying run on second with just one out.
‘We just didn’t get the break there,’ Hohlt said. ‘It just seems like we’re not getting the breaks we were getting earlier in the year.’
With the exception of Hentrich’s grand slam, the Vandals got outstanding pitching from Kinkead, Andy Hosick and Gray.
Kinkead matched zeros with Hentrich over the first three innings, but an error on an infield pop and some control issues proved costly in the fourth.
Marquette loaded the bases with one out on a single, an error and a walk, bringing up Hentrich, who quickly got ahead in the count, 2-0.
Hentrich then got the center-cut pitch he was looking for, sending a frozen rope over the fence in left-center.
‘TK was starting to miss a little bit there, and any time you fall behind 2-0, it’s going to hurt you, and that’s exactly what happened,’ Hohlt said. ‘He had to throw one down the gut and the kid hit it a long way.’
Kinkead suffered his first loss of the year, but his pitching line – three earned runs allowed on two walks and two hits in 3 1/3 innings – was not indicative of how well he threw the ball.
‘TK pitched well,’ Hohlt said. ‘He’s only a sophomore, and he’s going to be a big part of our program. It was good to see him at least throw three solid innings against a good hitting Alton-Marquette team.’
The tradition-rich Knights (13-6) have been good – period – over the years, claiming two state titles and advancing to the state tournament seven times during Greg DeCourcey’s 31-year tenure.
That said, Hohlt is confident his team can compete with just about anyone, as long as it keeps its head up when things go wrong.
‘We’ve got a very busy week ahead of us,’ Hohlt said. ‘The way we finished strong like that, hopefully it’s going to propel us into playing well.’
VCHS senior Clint Sigrist got the Vandals on the board with an RBI single in the fourth, and classmates Wasmuth and Gray also had a hit apiece in their final home game.
Staunton 5, Vandalia 4
The Vandals saw their SCC-East mark fall to 5-4 with a tough road loss to the Bulldogs.
Elam was 1-for-2 with an RBI, while Bunker was 1-for-3 with an RBI. Gray added a single in two at-bats.
Wasmuth went the distance, but took the loss. The senior righty struck out five and walked six.
Red Bud 6, Vandalia 3
Red Bud broke up a 3-3 tie with a run in the sixth before tacking on a couple insurance tallies in the seventh, salvaging a split against the homestanding Vandals.
Whightsil led an eight-hit Vandalia attack by going 3-for-4, but the junior righty took the loss, allowing five earned runs on eight hits in a complete-game effort. Whightsil struck out five and issued no walks.
Thiele, Wasmuth, Gray and Hosick had a hit apiece for the Vandals.
Vandalia 4, Red Bud 2
Gray was outstanding on the hill again, and the Vandals gave him just enough offensive support to win the first game of a nonconference doubleheader.
Gray improved to 6-3 on the spring by scattering eight hits and allowing just one earned run in a complete-game effort. The senior righty struck out six and walked only one.
Vandalia managed just five hits in blustery, cold conditions, but they were well timed, as a three-run fifth put the Vandals up for good.
Elam finished 2-for-2, while Wasmuth was 1-for-3 with an RBI and Hosick and Cory Bunker had a hit apiece.
Mater Dei 7, Vandalia 2
The Knights jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and never looked back, handing the Vandals a nonconference loss.
Mater Dei scored two in the first and three in the third against VCHS starter Andy Hosick. Hosick settled down shortly thereafter – as he wound up going the distance, giving up five earned runs on seven hits – but the Vandals couldn’t get enough offense going to recover.
Wasmuth went 2-for-4 with an RBI, but no other Vandal batter managed to get multiple hits. Herker and Kinkead each went 1-for-3, while Gray was 1-for-2.
Six Vandal errors led to two unearned runs.
Hillsboro 4, Vandalia 1
Nolan Rappe held the Vandals in check, pitching out of a pair of jams on his way to a complete-game five-hitter, effectively eliminating the Vandals from SCC-East title contention.
Rappe fanned eight and walked just one, and multi-sport nemesis Jordan Chiles either drove in or scored each of the Hiltoppers’ runs, finishing 2-for-3 on the day.
Wasmuth kept the Vandals in the contest by allowing just two runs in five innings of relief.
Vandalia 6, Hillsboro 2
Wasmuth and Sigrist went 2-for-4, and Whightsil finished off a complete-game victory two weeks in the making in the completion of a game that was suspended in the fifth inning due to rain back on April 18.
Whightstil (2-3) wound up allowing just two runs on four hits over seven innings, striking out six and walking none.