WESTPHALIA — The Fatima Comets made the most of their opportunities in Thursday's rivalry game against the Blair Oaks Falcons.
Fatima finished the game with just five hits but managed to reach base often, topping Blair Oaks 5-1 at Lions Field.
"Getting people on base for us is great," Fatima coach Tyler VanGerpen said. "We like to be aggressive on the basepaths, it puts a lot of pressure on pitchers. We seem to thrive when we get that baserunner."
The win gives Fatima a leg up in the seeding for next month's Class 4 District 8 Tournament, which will be played in California.
"We've still got a lot of season left, but this was a good start," VanGerpen said. "Whether there is seeding involved or not, this game is always a big game for both schools. The playoff implications only add to that fuel."
It only took three batters in the first inning for Fatima to build a 2-0 lead Thursday.
Blake Gentges hit a check-swing single over Blair Oaks first baseman Reid Dudenhoeffer, then Gage Cunningham sliced an RBI double into the left-field corner. The next batter, Dean Hagenhoff, singled up the middle to score Cunningham for the two-run lead.
"That's always a great way to start the game," VanGerpen said. "Whether it's their ace or their No. 3 pitcher, if the offense can come out and put up one or two runs in that first inning right away, it sets the tone for the rest of the game."
Blair Oaks allowed just two hits the rest of the way, but the damage had been done.
"They outplayed us from the first pitch to the last," Blair Oaks coach Mike DeMilia said of Fatima. "They were tougher than us, they were more competitive than us.
"They're better than us right now."
Blair Oaks answered in the top of the second with back-to-back doubles by Dudenhoeffer and Levi Haney to score a run. The Falcons looked primed for a big inning with runners on second and third base with one out, but Fatima pitcher Evan Kliethermes worked out of the jam to keep the score 2-1.
Kliethermes worked out of several jams Thursday.
"He competed his butt off," VanGerpen said. "It's a big game, you have the adrenaline pumping. He looked calm for the stage."
Kliethermes scattered five hits across five innings. The junior right-hander consistently pitched to contact, finishing with only one strikeout, but the Fatima defense came through with big double plays to end the third and fourth innings to hold the score at 2-1.
"That's been our philosophy from the beginning," VanGerpen said. " I'm not going to send a kid out there and say, 'I need 10 strikeouts.' I want him to get this kid out in 2-3 pitches."
Wil Libbert pitched 4 innings for Blair Oaks, finishing three walks and seven strikeouts. He was relieved by Josh Isaacs, who struck out one in the final 1 innings.
"I think we had a feeling that Wil was just going to go out there and strike the first three guys out, and when it didn't happen, we didn't know how to react," DeMilia said.
"We lost any emotion, we lost any confidence we had. That stuff just can't happen. You're going to face adversity in baseball, we just didn't handle it today."
Fatima scored two runs on just one hit in the fourth inning, as Jake Boyce crossed the plate on a fielder's choice and Dawson Woehr scored on an error to give the Comets at 4-1 lead.
Cunningham belted a solo home run just over the right-center field fence in the sixth to make it a four-run game.
Blair Oaks had scoring opportunities in five innings, but eight of the Falcons' 10 runners left on base were stranded in scoring position.
The Falcons brought the tying run to the plate in the top of the seventh, but Fatima relief pitcher Daniel Kleffner got a flyout to end the game and leave the bases loaded.
"We had our worst at-bats with guys in scoring position," DeMilia said. "That's a competitiveness thing, that's an emotional thing, and we didn't handle it. We had stuff going every inning, and their pitchers were just tougher than our hitters."
Cunningham had two hits, two RBI and two runs scored to lead Fatima, while Haney hit a pair of doubles and Dudenhoeffer finished with a single and a double to lead Blair Oaks.
Fatima (10-2) is scheduled to play Camdenton and Nixa today in the Lebanon Wood Bat Tournament, with two more games Saturday. Next week, the Comets play four Show-Me Conference games in five days.
"We have a very heavy game load in the next eight days," VanGerpen said.
Blair Oaks (14-4), ranked No. 5 in Class 4, has Tri-County Conference games Monday at Hallsville and Thursday at home against Class 4 No. 3 Southern Boone, with a rematch against Helias on Tuesday at the American Legion Post 5 Sports Complex.
"We've got to sit on this game for three days now, and I don't like that," DeMilia said. "I'd rather play tomorrow and get it out of our system. But we're going to have to get ourselves right over these next three days, because we've got a really tough week."
In Thursday's JV game, Fatima defeated Blair Oaks 10-0 in three innings.