Bullpen woes prove costly for Lincoln

It’s taken the Lincoln baseball team 10 games to get its offense going. And just when it seems like that might be happening, another problem has popped up.

The Blue Tigers scored a season-high seven runs in the last contest of a four-game set Friday with the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats at Lincoln Field. But that wasn’t nearly enough when the bullpen surrendered a late lead, and the Blue Tigers dropped an 11-7 decision.

Couple that with eight runs allowed by relievers in the first game, a 12-3 win for the Bearcats, and the Blue Tigers remained winless on the season.

“The bullpen really did not throw well this series and that put us in a bad spot,” Lincoln coach Jim Dapkus said.

In the second game of Friday’s doubleheader, the Blue Tigers trailed the Bearcats 6-0, but got things rolling with a four-run bottom of the third. After Christian Bunch and Zach Roberts got back-to-back walks to start the inning, Nick Lovell singled to load the bases. Ben Stewart followed with a three-run double to right-center field and later scored on a wild pitch to tie it.

The Blue Tigers then energized the crowd by taking a 7-6 lead by scoring in both the fifth and sixth innings.

In the fifth, Stewart started things with a two-out single. Kaleb Davis then lashed a double that moved Stewart to third, and when the Northwest Missouri center fielder misplayed the ball, Stewart scored. The Blue Tigers then added two in the sixth on RBI singles by Bunch and Roberts.

The lead was short-lived, however, as the Bearcats scored three in the seventh and two in the eighth to win going away.

Stewart went 3-for-5 with three RBI in the contest after going 1-for-2 in the opener.

“He had a lot of good, consistent at-bats this series,” Dapkus said.

But the rest of the lineup had just five hits in the nightcap.

“We’re still running into this thing where we have one good inning where everything clicks and then we’re quiet otherwise,” Dapkus said. “We’ve got to find a consistent offensive attack where we can score some more runs. Hopefully being out here on the field more consistently and getting some more work will pay off.”

Nate Lueckenhoff started and gave up six earned runs on seven hits and two walks in three innings. John Bisges followed and took the loss, as he followed up three scoreless innings with one where he gave up three earned runs. For the game, he gave up four hits while walking two and striking out three.

“John threw well,” Dapkus said. “He’s coming off an injury and getting stronger and hopefully he’s going to be somebody that we can count on throwing more and more innings.”

Gatlin Wiggans pitched the final two innings and gave up two earned runs on three hits with one walk and one strikeout.

In the opening game, starting pitcher Zach York kept things close for a while, but got no support in a 12-3 loss.

York pitched the first five innings to take the loss, giving up four runs (three earned) while scattering eight hits. He struck out two and walked one.

Joshua Register followed and gave up three earned runs on two hits one one walk in 1 1/3 innings. He struck out one. Dalton Goings followed and did not record an out while giving up three runs (two earned) on two hits, and Ian Fuemmeler wrapped up and gave up two earned runs on two hits and one walk in 2/3 of an inning.

“If you look at total pitches, (Northwest Missouri) threw a heck of a lot less than we did over the course of the series, just staying in the zone,” Dapkus said.

The Blue Tigers’ offense, limited to just six hits in the game, essentially amounted to an RBI single by Craig Jones — one of his two hits in the contest — in the fourth inning and a two-run homer by Davis in the sixth.

“We’ve got some guys slowly but surely getting some good at-bats, but like I told them afterward, if we don’t have everything firing on all cylinders, this conference is too good. They’re just not going to give it to us,” Dapkus said.

In addition to falling to 0-10 overall, the Blue Tigers are now 0-8 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. The Bearcats, meanwhile, are now 11-5 overall and 8-2 in league play.

Looking at a forecast of bad weather, Lincoln canceled four games with Lindenwood last weekend that, as it turned out, could have been played. That’s been part of a start-and-stop spring making it tough for the Blue Tigers to find their rhythm.

“The weather looks like it’s breaking and hopefully we can get some non-conference games in during the week,” Dapkus said. “Looking back, we probably messed up with the Lindenwood series in terms of the weather and how it worked out. But the forecast looked so bad, we just played it safe.

“It’s going to be nice to just get out here and play more consistently, because that’s what we need.”

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