As coach Steve Johnson put it, the entire Fort Hays State University baseball season so far was summed up in one game Wednesday. Facing Southwestern Oklahoma State University at Larks Park, the Tigers did everything from lead to collapse to rally, only to once again fall short in a 12-10 loss to the Bulldogs.
"We are willing to battle, but we don't know how to win. Guys got to want to be the one at the plate when it matters, and guys got to want to have the ball in their hands on defense when it matters and make plays, and that's what today came down to," Johnson said. "We make two huge errors, we don't get to the ball in the outfield that should be caught -- it's kind of the summation of what's gone on this season."
FHSU (5-18 overall), playing in the first of 11 straight homes game after a five-game road trip, looked sharp early against SWOSU (14-15). FHSU jumped out to a 3-0 lead after an inning on a three-run home run by junior Austin Unrein. The Tigers hot start faded quickly, the Bulldogs scoring three runs in the top of the second to even the score before adding a run in the fourth and five in the fifth to lead 9-3.
"It's baseball. This park plays 250 feet when the wind is blowing out to right. Those things are going to happen," Johnson said of SWOSU's early rally. "It's part of baseball. It's a game of momentum and right now we are not handling it very well.
"We are a little bit in front-runner mode. We are wiling to get up when things are going well, but we tend to go in a shell when anything happens negatively. We can't seem to snap out of that approach," Johnson added.
Unrein broke FHSU out of its slumber in the bottom of the fifth, his solo home run to open the inning the first of two runs by the Tigers. SWOSU added a single run in the top of the seventh and led 10-5 heading to the bottom of the eighth when FHSU decided to stand tall.
FHSU had one runner on with two outs when junior Alex King stepped in to pinch hit and sent a pitch out of the park, his two-run homer making it 10-7. After Unrein was walked and senior Kevin Czarnecki singled, senior Cooper Langley crushed a pitch for his team-high seventh home run of the season to tie the game at 10 runs each heading to the ninth inning.
However, the Tigers imploded in the top of the final inning, a flurry of fielding errors leading to a pair of SWOSU runs. FHSU was able to get runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the ninth trailing by two before King's groundout ended the game.
"It was a nice job of coming back and not giving up, but that's not how you play winning baseball. That's all we do is keep trying to come from behind," Johnson said. "We had opportunities early in that game to shut down their one big inning and we don't do it. We didn't handle the baseball. And it puts you in bad situations. Until we figure out how to change that and change our mentality and have more guys that want the baseball in their hands when it matters then we are going to continue to do this."
Unrein led FHSU with four runs batted in, going 2 for 4 with three runs. Langley was 3 for 4 with three RBI and a run.
SWOSU's Ethan Davis (3-2) took home the win, pitching the final 1.1 innings in relief. FHSU's Giles Fox (0-2) received the loss, facing seven batters in the ninth inning, just one of his two runs allowed being earned.
FHSU will take a day off before facing MIAA foe Northeastern State University at 7 p.m. Friday in the Tigers' annual "Pack the Park" night. They will also face NSU twice on Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m., with a fourth and final game coming noon Sunday at Larks Park.
Nick Schwien is managing editor at The Hays Daily News.