Tigers drop a pair to No. 9 Mules
By KLINT SPILLER
The Fort Hays State University baseball team is an offensive ball club, but like head coach Steve Johnson pointed out, it doesn't matter how good a team is offensively if it gives up big innings on the defensive side.
Big innings sap momentum, and that's what happened to start the Tigers' Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association opener Saturday at Larks Park.
FHSU fell to University of Central Missouri, the No. 9-ranked team in NCAA Division II, 16-4 in Game 1 of the doubleheader. Then, in Game 2, Fort Hays had a brief lead, before falling 17-7.
Fort Hays dropped to 3-3 and 0-2 in the MIAA, and Central Missouri improved to 5-1 and 2-0 in the league.
"They are a solid club, but there's a lot of things we can do better to prevent that," Johnson said.
In the opener, FHSU surrendered seven runs in the third and four runs in the fourth to trail 13-0 before junior first baseman Horace Johnson hit a three-run home run to center field to narrow it to 13-3.
"You can't give up 11 runs in the third and fourth innings," Johnson said. "It's college baseball. You lose momentum like that, you're going to beat."
Central Missouri dispatched TIger pitchers Alex Ellison (0-1) and Ty Thomas before junior reliever Drew Martineau calmed the Mules down.
Martineau shut Central Missouri down for 2.2 innings before giving up three runs of his own.
The Tigers averaged 12.3 runs per game heading into the contest, but FHSU didn't get much done in Game 1.
FHSU hit 4 of 25 with most of its offense coming from Johnson.
Johnson hit 2 of 3, blasting two home runs past center field. He leads the team with three so far this season.
"He can hit," Johnson said. "He can hit. Our whole lineup can hit."
Mule junior Kurtis Schuyler (1-1) pitched six innings and allowed four hits, four runs and a walk while striking out five.
"Their kid did a nice job on the mound today and was able to pitch pretty early with a comfortable lead," Johnson said. "It makes it a lot easier."
Ellison was credited with the loss but seven of his nine runs allowed were unearned.
FHSU trailed just 2-0 and would have gotten out of the third with the same score if it weren't for a fielding error by shortstop Sam Thornton. Instead, Central Missouri caught fire with two outs and drove in seven runs on six hits.
The Tigers and Mules will wrap the series with a 1 p.m. game today at Larks Park.
Central Missouri got its big innings in Game 2 as well, but at least FHSU hung with the Mules offensively for a short while.
The Tigers tallied 13 hits compared to Central Missouri's 17 hits, but FHSU lost 17-7.
Central jumped out to a 4-1 lead after two innings, but then Fort Hays took a 5-4 lead with a three-run fourth inning.
In the fourth, senior catcher Jay Sanders hit a solo home run, and junior center fielder Clayton Garland drove in a run with a single. The third run scored on a fielding error.
It was the Tigers' only lead of the doubleheader, and it didn't last long.
The Mules scored five runs in the fifth and three runs in the sixth to take a 12-6 lead. Then they added a run in the eighth and four runs in the ninth to expand their lead to 17-7.
Senior first baseman Ryan Busboom led the Tigers offensively, hitting 3 of 4 with three RBIs and two home runs. Sanders and senior third baseman Kelton Rule had FHSU's other two home runs. Rule hit 2 of 5, and Sanders finished 2 of 4.
Senior left-handed pitcher Tayler Davis started the game for the Tigers, but he hurt his arm at the beginning of the fourth inning. He gave up five hits, four runs and a walk in three innings, but he struck out five.
Five relievers took over for the rest of the game, but senior Luke McKay (0-1) took the loss, allowing a hit, three runs (two earned) and four walks.
Central Missouri's reliever was credited with the win. Jake Heissler took over in the fourth and lasted 5.1 innings, giving up four hits and two runs while striking out nine.