Blue Tigers fall 7-5 to opportunistic Mules

It’s not something you see very often — the Lincoln Blue Tigers outhitting the Central Missouri Mules in a baseball game — so you might think it would bode well for the Blue Tigers when it came to the final score.

But it didn’t work out that way.

Despite having a 9-7 edge in hits, the Blue Tigers couldn’t turn them into enough runs and came out on the short end of a 7-5 score Friday at Lincoln Field.

Even last year, when the Blue Tigers got just their seventh win all-time against the Mules, they were outhit in that and three other meetings while dropping three of four games in their season series. So while it was a notable accomplishment, it didn’t matter as Central Missouri played its opportunistic brand of offense.

“That’s the way they’ve been the last couple years, they’re just going to wait for that little opening,” Lincoln coach Jim Dapkus said. “They’re fast enough up and down the lineup, and they can all execute things, so if you give them an opportunity to score, they’re going to score.”

The Mules took advantage of what the Blue Tigers gave them. Of the six Central Missouri batters to draw walks, three of them scored, as did a hit batter.

“It’s one of those things where we should be happy with the way we played, but at the same time, we still need to clean things up even more to win,” Dapkus said.

The Mules, who improved to 90-7 all-time against the Blue Tigers, fell behind 2-0 after two innings before starting to rally.

Lincoln got a run in the first inning when Zach Roberts singled and then moved all the way over to third thanks to an errant pickoff throw. One out later, he came in on a single by Ben Stewart.

The Blue Tigers made it 2-0 with a run in the second. Josh Kennedy led off with an infield single, one of his three hits in the game, and later moved to second on a wild pitch. He eventually scored on a single by Martin Gulley.

Each team scored a pair of runs in the third inning. Lincoln’s first one came when Roberts walked, moved to second on a sacrifice by James Earleywine, stole third and came home when the throw sailed into left field. Stewart, who had also walked and moved to second on the throwing error, eventually came home on a double to left by Kennedy.

“We at least moved some guys around today and found ways to score, which is the way we’re going to have to do it,” Dapkus said. “We just have to get on early and be able to create some offense off of that.”

The Mules then took the lead for good with a three-run fourth inning. Former Helias Crusader Brad Wilson, who went 3-for-5 on the day, drove in the go-ahead run with a double to left.

Lincoln had a chance to take the lead back in the fifth, loading the bases with two outs, chasing Central Missouri starter Ricky Rivera. But reliever A.J. Walkenhorst did exactly what he needed to do, as he put out the fire. A fly ball to left ended that threat, and he cooled off the Lincoln bats over the next four innings.

The Blue Tigers would manage just one hit against Walkenhorst in that span — an RBI single by Stewart in the bottom of the ninth to round out the Lincoln scoring — and they struck out seven times in those four innings.

“Guys in the dugout said he had a little more zip than they’ve seen recently,” Dapkus said. “And he had a nice little offspeed pitch that made the fastball look even faster.

“We had really bad at-bats off of him, and that changed the game around.”

The Mules got two insurance runs in the seventh inning, with Wilson singling and coming around to score the first of those two.

Kennedy went 3-for-4 with an RBI and Stewart was 2-for-4 with two RBI to account for the bulk of Lincoln’s offense.

“Looking at our numbers, we’ve got to find two or three or four more guys to help us out a little more,” Dapkus said. “We’re just not scoring enough runs right now. If you look at our doubles, triples and home runs compared to the other teams, there’s getting to be a real big gap.”

Ryan Simpson (0-4) started and took the loss for the Blue Tigers. He allowed five runs (four earned) on four hits and five walks to go with one strikeout in 32/3 innings.

Ian Fuemmeler came on and worked 41/3 strong innings of relief, giving up two earned runs on three hits while walking one and striking out four.

“To Ian’s credit, he really did a pretty good job of keeping us in the game,” Dapkus said. “They got that one opportunity (in the seventh) where they got a bunt up the line and we made a bad throw and that opened up that whole inning. … That leads to a couple runs and all of a sudden we’re down three instead of down one.”

Joshua Register worked around an error to the leadoff batter in the ninth for the final inning of work by a Lincoln hurler.

The Mules, who lead the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association with a record of 16-5, improved to 19-9 overall. The Blue Tigers fall to 1-20 overall and 0-17 in league play.

“It’s tough, because we played well,” Dapkus said. “This would have been a nice game for us to get. But I told the guys, ‘You cannot come to the park with your heads down. We’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep battling through it.’”

The teams will play a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. today before wrapping up the series with a single game beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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