RUSSELLVILLE — One inning just happened to get away from the Fatima Comets.
Trailing by a run entering the top of the sixth inning, the Prairie Home Panthers scored five runs — four with two outs — to rally past the Comets for an 8-6 win Tuesday afternoon in the first round of the Russellville Tournament.
"We had some missteps, couldn't throw strikes at points, gave batters free bases," Fatima coach Josef Keilholz said. "Other than that, I felt like we swung the bat pretty good. They just outplayed us today."
Prairie Home struck first when Mason Wells smashed a solo home run to left field in the top of the first inning. It would be the first of three homers in the game.
Fatima came up empty in the bottom of the first, and nearly did again in the second. But with the bases loaded and two outs, leadoff batter Jake Boyce hit a 1-2 pitch and cleared the bases with a triple to right-center field, giving the Comets at 3-1 lead.
"Any hit that gives us the lead gives us a little momentum," Keilholz said. "It helps us on both sides, offensively and defensively."
Prairie Home erased the Fatima lead with runs in the third and fourth innings. Wells had an RBI single and Hunter Sheffield scored on a sacrifice fly for the Panthers to tie the game at 3.
The score stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when Fatima had runners on first and second with two outs. With an 0-2 count on Carson Schulte at the plate, Keilholz called for a double steal to move both runners into scoring position.
The double steal was successful, and two pitches later, Schulte singled into left field, scoring Peter Borgmeyer to put the Comets back on top 4-3.
The time limit was approaching as the sixth inning began, leaving uncertainty whether a seventh inning would be played. But Prairie Home made sure the game didn't go that far.
Sheffield opened the inning with a solo blast to left field to tie the score at 4. The Panthers loaded the bases to get back to the top of the batting order with two outs, and leadoff hitter Blane Petsel hit a double down the left-field line that scored two run to give Prairie Home a 6-4 edge.
The Panthers added two more runs on a stolen base and a wild pitch to lead by four runs going into the bottom of the inning.
"That's the great part about baseball," Keilholz said. "Even though they're a smaller school, baseball is a crazy game and they can come out and play better."
The last two runs Prairie Home scored proved to be the difference, making the loss more agonizing for Fatima.
Gage Cunningham, who flew out in each of his first three at-bats, belted a two-run home run to right field to pull the Comets within two runs of the lead.
"It was a good hit," Keilholz said. "It was good to see him get his swing back."
With the potential of playing several games in a three-day span, the two teams approached their pitching staffs differently Tuesday.
Prairie Home split it up between three pitchers that went two innings each. Fatima starter Dan Kleffner went as long as he could, going 5 innings before he was pulled after throwing 102 pitches. Kleffner struck out six and walked three.
"Dan was strong throughout the game," Keilholz said. "Once we got to that point, we wanted him to go as long as he could."
Petsel and Wells each had three hits to lead the Prairie Home hitting attack. Boyce went 3-for-4 with two singles and a triple to lead Fatima.
The Comets played last month in the summer league across Mid-Missouri, but this week's tournament gives them a more fitting ending to their summer.
"I know they didn't want their season to end, and I didn't want their season to end," Keilholz said. "Something like this really gives them closure on their season. This is a really good thing."
Fatima defeated its JV team 12-2 later Tuesday in an elimination game. The Comets are scheduled to play Russellville's JV team at 10 a.m. today.