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Blair Oaks strolls to a win

In baseball against Battle

Blair Oaks pitcher Logan Gratz throws to the plate during Tuesday’s game against Battle in Wardsville.

Blair Oaks pitcher Logan Gratz throws to the plate during Tuesday’s game against Battle in Wardsville. Photo by Kile Brewer.

WARDSVILLE, Mo. — On a day where hits were hard to come by, it was a walk that might have held the key for the Blair Oaks baseball team.

The Falcons got outhit 5-4 by the Battle Spartans, but two of Blair Oaks’ hits came after a timely base on balls in the fifth inning.

That ended up being the only frame where Blair Oaks scored, and the Falcons escaped with a 2-1 win at the Falcon Athletic Complex.

Dalton Fifer led off a scoreless game in the fifth with a walk and then got sacrificed to second on a perfect bunt by Logan Gratz. After a fly ball got the Spartans within an out of escaping the jam, No. 9 hitter Seth Eskens worked a walk to turn the lineup over.

It paid immediate dividends, as Logan Bax grounded a 2-0 fastball through the infield and into right field to score Fifer.

“Seth had a big at-bat in a key spot there for us to turn the lineup over and then Bax did what he’s supposed to do, get the run in,” Blair Oaks coach Harv Antle said.

That was just the second hit to that point for the Falcons, with the other coming in the first inning. On a warm, blustery day where balls hit in the air seemed to hang up for an unusually long time, Bax said his job was simple.

“My second at-bat (in the third inning), I hit it up in the air and it stayed up there,” he said. “So I thought, ‘I’m going to try to get something through the infield here.’ I was sitting fastball on a 2-0 count and luckily I hit it hard and got it through the infield.”

Right after that, Alec Verhoff beat out an infield single to score Eskens, who had gone from first to third on Bax’s single.

“That’s a hustle play on Alec’s part,” Antle said. “A lot of guys would be upset or frustrated that they didn’t square the baseball. But he got it on the ground and he’s a guy that can run and he used his best weapon and beat it out. Little things like that don’t always show up in the box score, but those can be the difference.”

That second run proved to be huge when Battle came right back in the top of the sixth and scored its only run. However, the Spartans left the tying run at second to keep with a game-long trend. Battle stranded eight runners in the contest, seven of them in scoring position.

The last of those came in the top of the seventh, when a one-out error and a sacrifice put the tying run at second. But reliever Cody Stegemann got the final out on a groundout and the Falcons had the win.

“We went to Boonville (Monday) night and we hit right with them, in fact we outhit them, but they had hits with guys on base and the timely hits and they’re the ones that came out on top,” Antle said. “(Tuesday), we were able to flip the script.”

Battle’s penchant for stranding runners started from the get-go, as the Spartans left the bases loaded in the first, two of them having been hit by pitches.

Then in the second, Battle put runners at second and third with two outs before Gratz, Blair Oaks’ starter, got the final out via a strikeout.

“We brought Logan back on short rest, he threw for us on Friday,” Antle said. “He was on three days, so he probably didn’t have his best stuff, certainly not his best velocity. But he found a way to make pitches and got out of a jam that he created (in the first).”

Bax, the catcher, had a simple message for his battery mate.

“It was big to get out of the first two innings with guys on,” Bax said. “I talked to him in the dugout and told him, ‘Just throw strikes and we’ll play defense behind you. He gave us a chance to win and we got the ‘W.’”

Gratz only gave up two hits in the third through sixth innings, one of them an infield single. He ended up going six innings, allowing one earned run on five hits with five strikeouts. Stegemann got the save, striking out one in the seventh.

The Falcons, who play Saturday against Centralia and Kirksville in Centralia, improved to 17-8.

“Our offense has been streaky, to say the least, but for the most part, we’ve been able to pitch the baseball pretty well and play pretty good defense,” Antle said. “Even when we were in that bad stretch, losing five games in a row, it’s not like we were giving up a ton of runs. That’s what we tell our pitchers to do, throw strikes and give the defense a chance to work.”

In Tuesday’s JV game, Blair Oaks posted a 6-0 victory. Austin Herigon was the winning pitcher, while Cole Stockman had two RBI. Blair Oaks (11-4) will play Thursday at School of the Osage.

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