WARDSVILLE - Fifteen days after originally scheduled, the Blair Oaks baseball team finally opened its season. During that same span, Southern Boone got in six games during a trip to Vero Beach, Fla.
So while it expectedly took the Blair Oaks hitters some time to adjust to Southern Boone pitching, Falcons ace Jacob Koelling was miles ahead of Eagles hitters Tuesday night in a 4-1 Blair Oaks victory at the Falcon Athletic Complex.
"I think it was apparent one team was playing its seventh game and the other team was playing its first game," Blair Oaks head coach Harv Antle said. "We fought some jitters, some nervousness early. Overanxious at the plate. As the game went on, I thought we took some better at-bats. Not a whole lot of hitting, but it's early and the cliche is, "The pitching is ahead of the hitting.' I think that was part of it today as well.
"Jacob did very well. To keep his team in the game when we're not scoring any more runs than we were, that's that much more pressure. I thought he stood up well to it."
Koelling and Southern Boone's Miller Bowles went pitch-for-pitch through the first four innings. Koelling brought a no-hitter into the fifth and Bowles only allowed a pair of hits up to that point.
The scoreboard finally lit up in the fifth.
Southern Boone took a 1-0 lead on a single from Ethan O'Keefe, a stolen base, a groundout and a wild pitch that brought O'Keefe home.
The Falcons' bats woke up in the bottom of the frame.
It started when Koelling reached second on a throwing error by the Southern Boone third baseman. Ryan Abbott then tied the game when he launched a double off the fence in left field.
A savvy baserunning play by Abbott put him at third base following a groundout to the third baseman. Abbott then came home with the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly to right field from Beau Distler.
"For our kids to hang in there and battle and give up the run the way we did, that's discouraging, but our kids bounced right back and took the lead and then padded it at the end," Antle said.
Blair Oaks added a pair of insurance runs in the sixth inning, a frame that saw the Falcons collect four of their seven hits.
Derek Otto started the inning by hammering the first pitch he saw to the gap in right-center, and sped all the way around for a triple. Daniel Castillo brought him in with a single to right. Alec Verhoff was then called upon for courtesy-running duties, a shrewd move that paid off as he took second and third on consecutive botched pick-off attempts. Logan Bax then poked a double to left field to cap the scoring.
"I thought that we had some good at-bats late," Antle said. "Logan Bax coming in off the bench for the pinch-hit in the sixth, he got down two strikes, battled and went the other way with the pitch. Very impressive at-bat there.
"The longer the game went on, it seemed like the better we played."
With the bats taking awhile to heat up, Koelling kept the Falcons in the game with his mastery on the mound. The senior right-hander allowed one run on one hit and struck out 11 batters in 103 pitches through six innings. Koelling was also the only Falcon with two hits.
"I thought he did really well, especially with what he was working with today," Antle said. "Really fought his curveball, he couldn't locate it. The changeup, the same way. He was pretty much working off his fastball and had to spot that. It was that much more impressive."
Said Southern Boone coach Tony Phillips: "We didn't swing it very well. We were letting him throw fastballs for strikes. We were pretty passive at the plate, and you're not going to beat a good team doing that."
Kyler Maxey worked the seventh inning for the save, striking out three while issuing a walk.
Bowles was sharp for the Eagles, allowing the four late runs (two earned) on seven hits with six strikeouts.
"I thought our guy pitched a great game," Phillips said. "They made adjustments in that fifth, sixth inning and put four runs on the board."
Southern Boone falls to 1-6 on the season while Blair Oaks (1-0) travels Thursday to Hallsville.
"We're just glad to get on the field and get the first game out of the way," Antle said. "Hopefully we can relax a little bit and execute better the next time out."