WARDSVILLE — The Blair Oaks Falcons have been known for being selective at the plate this season. But it was a player swinging at a first-pitch strike that jump-started their offense Wednesday.
Cadon Garber stepped to the plate in his first career varsity at-bat swinging at the first pitch, blooping a double down the right-field line. The Falcons' No. 9 hitter reached base all three times and sparked his team to a 6-2 victory against the Boonville Pirates at the Falcon Athletic Complex.
"Cadon pulled his hamstring right before the season started," Blair Oaks coach Mike DeMilia said. "He's played a few JV innings and got some at-bats. I just felt like it was the right time.
"For him to set the tone like that, it was nothing fancy, just getting on base and getting that inning going."
Garber scored the game's first run on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the third. He reached on an error and scored in the fourth, then doubled to right-center field — first-pitch swinging, again — in the fifth.
"He was a spark for us tonight, that was really good to see," DeMilia said.
The Nos. 6-9 hitters for Blair Oaks accounted for five of the team's eight hits, which DeMilia credited to the Falcons having a solid lineup of nine hitters.
Aside from Garber's two hits, the Falcons did everything they could to work the count against Boonville pitching. In six innings, the Pirates threw 162 pitches, as Blair Oaks had batters see at least six pitches in 13 of their 35 plate appearances.
Boonville starter Jamesian McKee shut down Blair Oaks in the first two innings, but he labored through a 38-pitch third inning.
"He lost his command a little bit, but it was also us laying off pitches, working counts, fouling off quite a few two-strike counts," DeMilia said. "He's a really good pitcher."
So was Blair Oaks' starting pitcher, Cale Willson.
The junior right-hander held Boonville scoreless through the first five innings, ending each of those innings with a strikeout. Willson reached his pitch-count limit with one out in the top of the sixth, but not before finishing with 10 strikeouts, his third straight double-digit strikeout performance.
"He did a great job of battling out of some innings," DeMilia said.
DeMilia noted Willson has done a better job of staying around the strike zone as the season has progressed, improving his record to 2-2.
"Early in the year, when he'd walk guys, he'd miss by two feet. Today, he was right around the zone," DeMilia said. "He's a guy that might give up three or four walks, but when you punch out 10 batters, you can get away with it."
Reid Dudenhoeffer hit an RBI single in the third to give the Falcons a 2-0 lead.
In the fourth, Wil Libbert sliced a double just fair inside the left-field foul line, plating two more runs to double the Falcons' lead.
"It was 2-0 and they almost looked like they were going to get out of that jam," DeMilia said. "For him to get that double, that makes it a lot easier on us."
Two batters later, Levi Haney's RBI infield single extended the lead to 5-0. Gavin Wekenborg scored on a bases-loaded walk in the fifth for the Falcons' final run.
Blair Oaks left the bases loaded in the third, fourth and fifth innings, but the Falcons didn't go away empty-handed, scoring their six runs during that stretch.
Cade Stockman pitched the last 1 innings for the Falcons, walking one and striking out two.
Garber had the only mulithit game for either team, while Libbert drove in a game-high three runs.
This was Blair Oaks' first win against Boonville since 2012, improving the Falcons' record to 3-0 in the Tri-County Conference. Boonville (4-4) fell to 1-3 in conference play.
The Falcons have won 12 of their last 13 games and were coming off a 3-1 record in last weekend's Columbia Tournament, playing all four games against Class 6 opponents.
"Our guys wanted to win that tournament, that was one of the things our seniors set out to do," DeMilia said. "It didn't work out and they were a little disappointed, but when they had the opportunity to play C.B.C. and Rock Bridge, I think that changed them a little bit, and to win both those games was huge.
"We feel like we can beat anybody, but we have some flaws, too, that we have to fix."
Blair Oaks (14-3), ranked No. 5 in Class 4, has another big game on its hands today, as the Falcons will visit Westphalia to take on the Fatima Comets (9-2). Both teams are in Class 4 District 8.
The last time the two teams met was in May 2019, when Blair Oaks edged Fatima 1-0 in the Class 3 state championship game.
"We have a tough stretch here, which is what we want," DeMilia said. "We're always excited to play Fatima. We'll have a good pitcher on the mound and I'm sure they will too. It'll be tough, but it'll be fun."
Blair Oaks lost Wednesday's JV game 8-2 to Boonville, dropping the Falcons' record to 5-2.