If there were such a thing as a one-inning mulligan, the Jefferson City Jays gladly would have used it Tuesday night.
Defending state champion Rock Bridge outscored the Jays by just one run between the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Unfortunately for Jefferson City, the third inning counts, too.
The Bruins plated seven in that inning en route to a 10-2 defeat of the Jays to all but secure the top seed in the upcoming Class 5 District 9 Tournament.
"The score is not indicative of the type of team that we are," Jefferson City coach Brian Ash said. "I think we're much better than what we played, obviously, but my thing is, I'm excited to try to get back to the district championship game and see what happens."
Rock Bridge won that game 5-0 last year to end the Jays' season.
The Bruins put up two runs in the first inning on three walks, an error, an infield hit and a sacrifice fly. The lead could have been greater, as Jays starter Travis Hennessy drew a groundout to strand the bases loaded.
Rock Bridge added a run in the second inning on a walk and an RBI double by starting pitcher Logan Twehous, but the real damage came in the third. After an infield single, the Jays got an out on a fielder's choice. It would be six batters before they got another one.
Eric Kuse smacked a two-run homer to left, Nick Wohlbold walked, Taten Lyngstad singled, and Joe Barbee drove in two with a single before Connor Brumfield got an RBI single of his own. Hayden Hirschvogel, who came entered to face Barbee in relief, got Twehous to fly to right, but Cole Evans added another run with a single, and Matt Widhalm drove in the 10th.
J.T. Bohlken became the third Jays pitcher to take the mound that inning and stopped the bleeding with a flyout. Rock Bridge had seven runs, seven hits and a walk in the inning.
"They're a good team," Ash said of the Bruins. "If you continuously get down 3-1, 3-0, 2-0 in the count, they're a good enough team where if you're going to throw fastballs, they're going to hammer it, and that's what happened."
Bohlken pitched the remainder of the game, keeping the Bruins at 10 runs and allowing just two hits.
"He had great command of the strike zone," Ash said. "For him to come in there in a spot like that, where a lot of kids would kind of think of it as mop-up innings - which it wasn't; you've still got to get some work done - he just showed me right there against the No. 2-ranked team in the state that he can go out there and get outs and be very consistent."
Bohlken's performance prevented Rock Bridge from ending the game early via 10-run rule.
"When you get to that point, it's kind of a pride thing," Ash said. "We extended it. It could've been easy to just say, "Fold it up and let's just play five innings so we can get out of here.' But we battled. We worked on some things that we felt like we needed to.
"In a game like that, you've just got to try to get better for the next game. We did some good things. There's a lot of positives in the game, even though in a loss like that it's hard to pick those out."
Offensively, the Jays didn't threaten with much of a comeback. They scored a run in the second - on a Bret Jaegers single, a steal and a Gaven Strobel double - and the fifth - on singles from Bryce Beckley, Grant Wood and Adam Grunden - but couldn't take advantage of four other scoring opportunities. Six Jay runners reached scoring position but failed to touch home.
"With runners in scoring position we don't swing the bat very well right now, so we've just got to find a way to get it done," Ash said. "Two runs against Rock Bridge - we're going to have to score five runs. With our pitching that we have, we feel like a five-run mark is our mark that we've got to hit. If we score five, I feel like we're going to win most games."
They Jays were outhit 12-7 by Rock Bridge, which walked six times to Jefferson City's two. A win might have given the Jays (15-11) a chance to earn the top seed in the district tournament, but the Bruins improved to 23-2 and erased any doubt.
"Obviously, they're the one-seed after today," Ash said. "Clear cut and dry."
The start of the game was delayed an hour by rain.
Jefferson City hosts Quincy (Ill.) at 4 p.m. today.