Pair of Fighting Irish lefthanders combine on 2-hits shutout in 8-0 Wednesday, April 3, 2019, win, one day after St. Joseph: Benton blanked CHS 5-0 on three hits
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Preseason concerns about the potency of the 2019 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS baseball Hornets attack continued early-season signs of crystallizing into a major obstacle Wednesday (April 3).
For a second-straight day, a top Midland Empire Conference opponent from St. Joseph put a silencer on the CHS bats in apparently non-conference outings, limiting the Hornets to two hits as the Lafayette Fighting Irish blanked host Chillicothe 8-0 on “Chuck” Haney Field at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium.
The Lafayette lashing came 24 hours after Benton had blanked the Hornets 5-0 on three hits.
Weather permitting, Chillicothe (1-4) next will have another non-league game against a fellow MEC member when it makes up the weather-caused postponement of what would have been its mid-March season opener at Savannah next Monday (April 8). CHS will tote an 18-innings scoreless streak into its next contest and has only one run scored in its last three games – all losses.
As happened against Benton in a 5-0 loss the day before, the Hornets were behind before getting to take their first hacks. Three singles – two with two outs, a couple of steals, and a sacrifice fly – put two runs on the board for the visiting Irish.
With Chillicothe eventually shut out for a second-consecutive game, those runs were enough for a Lafayette victory. but the visitors did tack on with some help from the CHS defense.
After the first two batters were retired in the LHS fourth, a walk, a throwing error, and Tyson Koch’s sharp single up the middle and off losing pitcher Mason Baxter’s glove increased the gap to 3-0.
Then, the roof caved in a bit in the sixth as two hits – highlighted by Dayne Koch’s 2-runs single – and two Hornets errors led to five runs that put the game out of reach.
After Irish lefthanded starting pitcher Zach Leader retired 11 of the first 12 Hornets he faced and recorded four hitless innings, freshman Brock Ward opened the Hornets’ half of the fifth with an opposite-field, line-drive double down the line in right field. He didn’t budge from second, however, as lefty reliever Brayden Luikhart came in from his initial center field post and struck out the next three CHS batters.
A leadoff single by sophomore Tucker Wagers off Luikhart began the sixth and was followed by a walk to Mason Baxter. However, two strikeouts sandwiched around a groundout stranded the runners at second and third.
The Lafayette reliever then finished his 3-innings save by striking out the side in order in the seventh, giving Luikhart eight ringups out of his nine outs. That was strikingly similar to the 16 strikeouts out of 21 outs notched by Benton righty Tanner Schmidt a day earlier.
Given the paucity of production by its hitters in all but its win over the still-developing, 3-years-old Trenton program, Chillicothe’s defensive miscues – both physical and mental – assume extra gravity because they undermine what has to be the team’s foundational strength – its pitching and ability to limit opponents’ scoring, if a winning season is to be produced.
The loss to Lafayette officially involved six CHS fielding, catching, or throwing errors, leading to five Irish runs being unearned. There also were unmade plays that could have been outs and a mental lapse or two that heaped extra pressure and pitch load on its pitchers.
Statistically, Chillicothe was out-hit 9-2 by Lafayette with Luikhart and Dayne Koch each stroking two hits for the Irish (3-3).
Baxter (0-2) threw the first five innings for Chillicothe, being charged with three runs – two earned. Matt Smith tossed the last two, surrendering two earned tallies among the five the Irish posted in the top of the sixth.