Progress over the last three games has put the Fort Hays State baseball team right on the doorstep of notching its first win of the season.
Now the Tigers just need to find a way to break through, seeing another opportunity for their first victory elude them in Wednesday’s home opener against Wayne State.
The Wildcats scored two late runs and ended Fort Hays' ninth-inning threat to hand the Tigers a 5-4 loss at Larks Park, dropping FHSU to 0-6 on the season.
“Our last three games we’ve been right there,” Fort Hays State first-year head coach Jerod Goodale said. “It’s just like we don’t know how to win yet — in executing and winning in times you need to win. It’s making progress, but we’ve got to find a way to win those games.”
Since three straight lopsided losses to begin the season, FHSU has been closing the gap in its margin of defeat, taking 12-8 and 5-3 losses in the last two games of its series at New Mexico Highlands last week.
Wednesday's game was tied at 3 after six innings before a solo home run by nine-hole hitter Jake Lorenzini put the Wildcats in front in the top of the seventh. Wayne State (3-1) added what proved to be a crucial insurance run in the eighth when Kyle Thompson brought in Bryce Bisenius with a sacrifice fly.
The Tigers gave themselves a shot in the ninth after catcher Jared Maneth led off with a double and scored on Ryan Grasser’s two-out double. But in between the two hits, Wayne State reliever Lawson Zenner struck out Isaac Soares and Tim Fitzgerald and bounced back from the Grasser double to end the game with a swinging strikeout of Tyler Olsen, stranding the potential tying run at second.
“The bad part was the three strikeouts mixed around (the two ninth-inning hits),” Goodale said. “We talked about at least giving us a shot. Those are things some of these guys are going to have to learn — not being overly aggressive.
“But it was good to see a little bit of fight there at the end. It’s just continuing to build and finding ways to win and expecting ways to win. Expect to get the hits, expect to get it done — not waiting around for bad things to happen or seeing what the other team does. We’ve got to go make it happen for ourselves.”
Fort Hays jumped in front two batters into the bottom of the first inning after a leadoff double from Fitzgerald and RBI single from Ryan Grasser. Wayne State knotted it up in the third inning before Grasser scored on a single up the middle by Ryan Stoecklein in the bottom of the inning.
The Wildcats got runs in the fourth and sixth innings to take a 3-2 lead, but FHSU tied it up again in the sixth when pinch hitter Marcus McDaniel laid down a sac bunt to score Marcus Altman.
Tiger freshman Ethan Booe went six innings on the mound in his first collegiate start before Ryan Ruder came on for the seventh. Ruder took the loss, allowing Lorenzini’s home run to left field. He was also charged with the run in the eighth after giving up a leadoff walk and a double before Jake Steinbring came on to pitch the last two innings.
“It was the first time with (Ruder) facing hitters this spring,” Goodale said of Ruder. “With the wind blowing in, knowing he’s going to throw strikes, I thought it was a good time to get him in. Obviously he gets behind the nine-hole and he pops one out of here. At least he gave us a shot; the only thing was walking the leadoff guy in the eighth. I thought Jake Steinbring did a great job of coming in to minimize there.”
Booe took a no-decision, allowing three runs on six hits while striking out four and walking one.
“I thought Ethan Booe gave us a tremendous start,” Goodale said. “It was a good matchup. He’s a strike thrower and he’s going to give us a shot and that’s exactly what he did. We’ve got to do a better job offensively early on in the game when we’re throwing up zeros and keeping it one-run innings. I thought that game would be totally different if we could just scratch something together early on — two or three runs and I think the game would’ve been a lot different story.
“Pitchers gave us a shot. Defense gave us a shot. We just got to do more offensively and string things together.”
FHSU outhit Wayne State 12-11, led by Grasser’s 4-for-4 day at the plate.
The Tigers will finish the series with the Wildcats with a doubleheader at noon today, looking for their first win under Goodale, an FHSU alum who was hired as Tigers' head coach last summer after a successful seven-year run as head coach at Colorado School of Mines.
“I think the guys just have to understand when winning time is and when we need to be our sharpest when the game's on the line,” Goodale said. “I thought we did that defensively and pitching-wise, but not at the plate, especially early in the game.
“It was a good ball game. Unfortunately, we came up on the wrong side of it. But win a couple of those and they start expecting that to happen, especially at home. That’s a game I feel like we should win nine times out of ten when we get the pitching we did right there. Got to find a way to do it, though.”