WESTPHALIA, Mo. — The start of Thursday's game was less than ideal for the Fatima Comets.
The ending, however, couldn't have gone much better.
The Comets overcame an error on the first pitch of the game and an early two-run deficit, rallying to beat the Blair Oaks Falcons 8-3.
"I was proud of them for bouncing back after the first inning after they scored," Fatima coach Scott Kilgore said. "That'll get a team down. That's what we always try to do, is score first."
The game started with Blair Oaks taking a 1-0 advantage two pitches into the game. Nolan Hair reached second base on a dropped fly ball in left field and then scored on an RBI double by Ryan Paschal.
But for Fatima, it wasn't about the start. It was all about the finish.
With Blair Oaks trying to threaten in the top of the seventh, Garrett Welschmeyer lifted a fly ball to center field. Fatima's Skyler Dickneite kept drifting back toward the fence, and as he reached it, he lifted his right hand above the fence to rob Welschmeyer of a two-run home run for the final out of the game.
"With the wind blowing out, nothing's really routine on fly balls in this park," Kilgore said.
Just ask Mason Gipe, who lifted a fly ball to straightaway center field that kept carrying and carrying until it landed beyond the 305-foot sign for a solo home run to extend Blair Oaks' lead to 2-0 in the top of the second.
After that home run, Dickneite — who started on the mound for the Comets before switching to center field — found his groove, striking out the next three batters he faced.
"He did a very good job of commanding his offspeed (pitch)," Blair Oaks coach Travis Henke said. "He would throw his curveball when he was down in the count, he would throw it when he was up in the count. Our guys didn't really make an adjustment to it."
Dickneite's curveball kept Blair Oaks off-balanced, finishing with seven strikeouts in four innings. Although Dickneite wasn't close to reaching his pitch-count limit, Kilgore changed pitchers in the fifth so he could save his left-handed ace for Tuesday's Show-Me Conference battle against Class 3 No. 2 South Callaway.
"We want to have strong arms for that one," Kilgore said. "That's a big game for us."
Fatima had tied the game at 2 by the time it changed pitchers. Drew Bax stole home in the second inning while Jacob Crede worked his way into a rundown on a pickoff attempt. Jonathon Backes then led off the bottom of the fourth with a triple down the right-field line that was fair by inches and later scored on a groundout.
Logan Bexten, who relieved Dickneite, retired the Falcons in order in the fifth, then led off the bottom half of the inning with a single to start a three-run inning for the Comets.
Blair Oaks answered with three straight singles to start the sixth inning, including an RBI single by Thomas Verslues to cut Fatima's lead to 5-3.
The Falcons had runners on second and third with one out, but Bexten struck out pinch-hitter Scott Farley, then fanned Gipe to end the threat.
"I think they were just trying to do too much when they got to the plate," Henke said. "They just need to get up there and put the ball in play, see what happens. They were trying to hit one 450 feet instead of getting one through the infield."
Fatima added three runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a five-run lead. Backes, who went 3-for-4 and was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle, belted a two-run double off the left-center field fence with two outs in the sixth.
"He's having a great year," Kilgore said. "The key is to keep him swinging that well."
Dickneite and Bax each had two RBI for Fatima (11-5), which is ranked No. 7 in Class 3.
Bexten got the win, striking out three and scattering three hits in three innings of relief.
Paschal took the loss for the Falcons, allowing five runs on five hits with four walks and three strikeouts in five innings. Ethan Rackers gave up three runs on two hits in the sixth.
Jason Rackers was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles to lead Blair Oaks (10-6), which plays Monday at Hallsville.
"We learned that we can compete," Henke said. "We hate losing. Nobody likes to lose, but they had some fire in them tonight. That needs to stick with us for the rest of the season."
Fatima plays today at Hickman and Monday at Fulton before Tuesday's first-place conference showdown.
Blair Oaks won the JV game 8-6, getting three strikeouts in five innings from Tyler Gish to improve to 3-4.
Parker Bax had two hits, including a two-run home run for the Falcons, and Webb Villmer also finished with a pair of hits. Tony Bock led the Comets with a two-hit performance and five RBI.