Wednesday was a difficult day to pitch for both the Washburn and Fort Hays State University baseball teams with a steady wind blowing out to left field, but the Ichabods (15-12, 10-7) handled the conditions better — especially early — and took the second meeting between the MIAA squads, 12-9, at Larks Park.
For FHSU head coach Steve Johnson, the difference came down to how the conditions were managed.
“One pitcher got in trouble early on their side, and he managed to settle in and continue to throw strikes,” Johnson said. “I thought the first couple guys we threw out there didn’t do that. They let stuff that’s uncontrollable upset them and change the game plan and give them free passes.”
The seven walks and four hit batters issued by the Tigers (13-15, 7-10) seemed to bother Johnson more than the Ichabods’ four homers that led to eight runs. The FHSU coach felt some of his pitchers were too timid to throw strikes in the hitter-friendly conditions.
“It’s a tendency of a pitcher when you’re worried about an extra-base hit, when you’re worried about the ball blowing out of the yard,” Johnson said. “You lose your aggressiveness to get ahead ahead in counts. You try to nibble and you get down in counts.”
Pounding the strike zone helped the FHSU pitchers limit opponents to 31 runs with no more than seven coming in any game in the previous seven games. On Wednesday, the Tigers allowed their opponents to score at least 10 runs for the 11th time. FHSU is winless in those games.
The Ichabods got to Tiger starter Logan Herd right off the bat. WU leadoff hitter Parker Gibson opened the game with a single up the middle.
Riley Krane then homered to give the visitors a 2-0 lead before the Tiger freshman recorded his first out. Possibly the most discouraging aspect was the freshman’s response.
“He’s an extreme competitor, and today, that’s probably the most emotion I’ve seen out of him, in a negative way,” Johnson said. “He reacted to the home run. He battled and got the next three guys out, but you could see the emotion come out of him.”
Washburn added a run in the second before the Tiger bats showed their strength.
Joe Mapes, Connor Ross and Alex King opened the frame with consecutive singles before Jace Bowman flared a single to right, scoring Mapes and Ross.
The next FHSU batter, shortstop Nick Hammeke, gave the Tigers a 5-3 lead with his first homer of the season, a three-run shot that landed just beyond the 349-foot sign in left-center. King, Bowman and Hammeke, the seven, eight and nine hitters, respectively, plated seven of the Tigers’ nine runs.
“The bottom half of our order has done as much damage as any part,” Johnson said. “That’s a great sign for down the road because the top of the order has been pretty steady all year.”
Herd returned to the mound in the third with the lead, but it evaporated after a pair of doubles, a couple walks, a hitter batter and a wild pitch. Clayton Basgall came on for the final out of the third with the game tied at six.
While Basgall escaped the third without damage, the same could not be said of the fourth. Krane’s second home of the afternoon put the visitors up by two before consecutive hit batters stocked the bases for Tanner Triggs, who cleared them with a three-run shot to right-center.
Basgall pitched a scoreless fifth, and the Tigers got a run back in the bottom half on a Connor Ross infield single.
Ichabod catcher David Gaunt hit the team’s fourth homer of the day in the sixth, and Basgall was replaced by Casey Sedbrook after Lance Barkley singled in the ensuing at-bat.
The Tigers scored the contest’s final two runs in the bottom of the seventh when Josh Ramirez replaced WU starter Jacob Head, who allowed seven runs on 11 hits.
Joe Mapes ignited a two-out rally with a walk before a Ross double moved both runners into scoring position.
Alex King then plated both with a single to make it 12-9.
The Tigers had something brewing in the eighth with runners on first and second with no outs, but Caleb Cherryholmes lined out to second, leading to a double play that allowed Ichabod reliever Zach Linquist to breathe a sigh of relief. It was the most notable of numerous instances where hard-hit balls found Ichabod gloves.
“I thought we outplayed them from an offensive standpoint, as far as quality at-bats and swings,” Johnson said. “We out-hit them 15-13. We probably lined out six or seven times today.”
FHSU senior DJ Carr exited before the eighth after retiring four straight batters. Austin Unrein allowed one hit and issued one walk in the final two frames for the Tigers. Johnson credited Carr and Unrein’s strong relief outings to a willingness to throw strikes.
Barkley handled the bottom of the ninth for the Ichabods and retired the Tigers in order to end the game.
The loss broke up a four-game winning streak for the Tigers that began with an 8-1 win over the Ichabods in Topeka last week.
FHSU will look to start another streak Friday when they open a three-game series against Northeastern State at Larks Park.