WARDSVILLE - A big night was surely in the cards for Blair Oaks.
After a four-run first inning saw the Falcons send 10 batters to the plate, Blair Oaks appeared on its way to a blowout victory.
Then the bats went cold.
"Well, apparently we thought four was enough," Blair Oaks head coach Harv Antle deadpanned following the Falcons' 4-2 victory over Eugene on Thursday night at the Falcon Athletic Complex. "Fortunately it turned out that it was. We made it interesting at the end. We got the early lead and kind of sat on it and that's always a little bit scary."
Blair Oaks jumped on Eugene right away. Beau Distler led off with an infield hit, Derek Otto reached on a dropped popup and Kyler Maxey drew a walk to load the bases.
Hayden Haney then stepped up and smacked a sharp grounder up the middle that plated two runs. Daniel Castillo later added a sacrifice fly to center field that brought Maxey home before Haney scored on a botched rundown between third and home.
"You don't want to give away four right off the bat," Eugene head coach Heath Lepper said.
Then Blair Oaks' Logan Gratz and Eugene's Cameron Massman started throwing up zeroes.
After Austin Ellsworth singled to lead off the game for Eugene, Gratz didn't allow a hit until Ellsworth singled again leading off the sixth inning.
"Logan Gratz did a really good job on the mound for us," Antle said. "Much better his second time out than his first time out (April 5 against Rockhurst)."
Eugene, however, did manage to score a run during that hitless drought. Cody Shaw led off the fourth inning with a walk, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and came home to score on another groundout. Blair Oaks shortstop Dustin Blomberg saved a hit on that run-scoring grounder with a diving stab to his left and a strong throw to first.
"I thought we played real good defense throughout," Antle said. "Dustin Blomberg made a fantastic play at shortstop."
Massman was almost as sharp for Eugene. Blair Oaks managed just four hits after the first inning, and only twice advanced a runner to second base.
"Real proud of Massman," Lepper said. "Kept the ball down, kept them on their front foot a little bit. Take away that first inning, take away a couple errors here or there and it's a whole different ball game. Probably 2-2."
Eugene threatened in the sixth inning after putting its first two batters on base with singles. After a short meeting on the mound, Gratz then retired the next three batters on four pitches, getting a fielder's choice groundout, a popup and a groundout.
Trouble arose again in the seventh. Gratz hit Eugene's Blake Rains with a pitch to put the leadoff man on base. Antle decided to go to the bullpen and bring in Logan Bax.
"We thought (Gratz) might have been tiring a little bit at the end and we had Bax ready, so we brought him in," Antle said. "In his first varsity appearance, he was able to come in and close the door."
Bax walked the first batter he faced before Chase Dickerson poked a base hit to right field to make it 4-2. Eugene was in business with runners on first and third with nobody out.
Then Blair Oaks came up with a huge defensive play. Loren Belshe tapped a grounder just to Bax's right. He charged in and flipped the ball to catcher Daniel Castillo, who caught the off-target toss with his bare hand and applied the tag while employing a textbook block of home plate.
"A real creative play at the plate between Bax and Castillo," Antle said. "I'm not sure why they made the play, but it worked out for us."
Bax then retired the next two batters with a strikeout and a flyout to end the game.
"We had a couple of those opportunities throughout the game, we just couldn't get the key hit at the key time," Lepper said.
Blair Oaks (11-4) travels to New Bloomfield today, while Eugene (5-9) travels Monday to St. Elizabeth.