Behind St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond 5-0 after 4-1/2 innings Monday, April 8, Hornets plate five runs in home sixth – three on tying Brandsgaard double – to prevail 6-5
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Digging unexpectedly deep into their roster in a search for pitching, the Chillicothe High School baseball Hornets at least had the consolation, late in Monday’s (April 8, 2019) game, that they’d located an important option in that regard.
When the defense of St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond’s Golden Eagles faltered a bit and their starting pitcher faded in the sixth inning, the Hornets got something more tangible – runs and a Midland Empire Conference victory.
Trailing 5-0 after 4-1/2 innings, Chillicothe snapped a lengthy scoring drought with a single run, then got a 2-outs, bases-loaded, 3-run double from Westley Brandsgaard, their most-potent hitter, and a run-scoring error to cap a stunning sixth-inning explosion to rescue a 6-5 win over Bishop LeBlond on “Chuck” Haney Field at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park.
Kept in the game by three effective innings of relief pitching by junior righthander Landon Swift (1-0), the lefthanded-swinging Brandsgaard’s slicing, opposite-way drive over the head of the BLHS left field drove home Tucker Wagers, Mason Baxter, and – all the way from first base – Jaden Winder without a play to square the scoreboard at 5-5.
Then, after Kam Ward’s infield hit to the third-base side of the mound, freshman Brock Ward’s hit-and-run grounder toward shortstop caught the Golden Eagles infielder having already started toward second base to cover for a possible throw on the steal. Having to halt his momentum and go back to his right, the shortstop fielded the ball cleanly, but had little momentum or balance to make the throw to first. As a result, it tailed a bit up the line toward home plate, pulling the first baseman off the bag, letting B. Ward reach safely and Brandsgaard cross home plate with the go-ahead run.
Once in front, Chillicothe went to junior righty Winder, one of its most-seasoned hurlers, to work the seventh. Although the leadoff man reached on an error, he struck out the next three Golden Eagles – the last looking – to allow CHS (2-4, 1-0 conf.) to snap a 3-games losing streak and take its previously-postponed league opener.
Swift, making his varsity debut on the mound, held Bishop LeBlond to an unearned run on one hit in his three frames
“With some of our top pitchers not at their healthiest right now, we need some of our younger or less-experienced players to step in,” Canaan Fairley, Hornets head coach, told the C-T after the welcomed win. “Landon’s pitched in several JV games already and consistently thrown strikes, so we felt like he could do that on the varsity level, as well.
“He really gave us a huge lift.”
His outing started changing from promising to triumphant when the Golden Eagles mishandled Dawson Wheeler’s ground ball to begin the home sixth. When a walk to Gage Kirkland immediately followed, it marked the third time in the game the middle-to-lower portion of the CHS lineup had put two men on to begin an inning. After nothing came of the two prior opportunities, the Hornets cashed in on this one after Bishop LeBlond changed pitchers.
Reliever Jaren Guck, who had been catching previously and also had a pair of doubles, a run batted in, and run scored offensively, immediately fanned Swift on three pitches, but then wobbled.
Sophomore infielder Tucker Wagers, the No. 9 batter in the Chillicothe lineup, poked a ball to the right side of the infield between the first and second basemen. Going far to his left, the second sacker couldn’t field it cleanly and Wagers had a bases-filling infield hit.
Leadoff man Baxter hit into a fielder’s choice at third base as Wheeler scored CHS’ second run of the game, Baxter’s speed allowing him to beat the attempted double-play throw at first.
Representing the potential tying run, Winder lashed a hit to center, loading the bases for Brandsgaard, already two for three and batting .611 for the season. With nowhere to put him, short of forcing home a run with an intentional walk that would assure BLHS of still leading by two with K. Ward up, Guck tried to get the red-hot hitter, but couldn’t.
Squaring the ball up well, Brandsgaard sent a high drive toward left-center field. Failing to account for the natural slice back toward left field the ball of the lefty hitter’s bat would have, the Golden Eagles left fielder ranged quickly to his left, only to have the ball’s carry take it slightly behind and beyond him. With two outs, Winder was off from first base with contact, allowing him to be waved home safely without a relay throw from the shortstop.
When Guck couldn’t cleanly up come with K. Ward’s tap between the bump and third base and then the off-line throw on B. Ward’s grounder, Chillicothe not only had erased the 5-runs deficit it had faced an inning before, but had taken the lead, which Winder then preserved for his first save of the season.
As has been a persistent, and heretofore unhealthy, habit, the Hornets fell behind early, although the hole this time could have been much deeper.
Starting pitcher Kam Ward walked the first two BLHS batters and the nextman, Jaren Guck, ripped a line-drive double to right-center field, making it 1-0.
When another walk immediately followed and the count on the batter after taht went to 3-1, the visitors looked ready to post multiple runs. K. Ward, however, didn’t wilt.
He pumped back-to-back strikes to get his first out, then whiffed the next man, as well. Finally, after the first pitch to the next batter, K. Ward fumbled the return toss from his catcher-brother Brock and the runner at third tried to score. The CHS hurler scrambled toward third base to recover the ball and hurriedly fired back to the plate. His sibling made a clean snag of the tough, short-hop peg and got the tag over on the runner in time to both prevent the run and end the inning with only one run scored.
After the Hornets failed to do anything with a 2-on, no-outs chance in the bottom of the second, the top part of the Bishop LeBlond lineup added more damage, this time getting a crooked number.
Line drives to right-center field by Bradeyn Dawson and Guck produced a second-and-third, no-outs threat. Frankie Gall’s roller to shortstop plated the lead runner and a wild pitch in the dirt let Guck make it 3-0 after 2-1/2 innings.
Three walks and a forceout at second in the Bishop LeBlond bumped the lead to 4-0 in the fourth, during which junior righthander Landon Swift replaced K. Ward on the hill after free passes to the first two batters.
The Hornets squandered back-to-back singles by B. Ward and Dawson Wheeler opening their half of the fourth, but, after the Golden Eagles scored a fifth time on a passed ball, finally netted their first run in 23 innings and 14 days with two outs next time up.
Mason Baxter singled to start the CHS fifth inning and advanced 90 feet on a 1-out groundout. K. Ward then laced the next pitch into right-center field for a run-scoring single.
Once the Hornets’ scoring levee had been breached, the slight weakening of the BLHS defense to start the home sixth allowed the runs to pour through for the game-swiping rally.
Statistically, Chillicothe out-hit Bishop LeBlond 11-4, even though five of the Hornets’ runs were unearned.
With his 3-for-4 day, junior Brandsgaard, who played first base instead of his customary catcher, raised his average to .632. In his first varsity start, Wheeler joined K. Ward in having two singles and seven Hornets had hits.
There was no junior-varsity game as Bishop LeBlond (2-6, 0-2 conf.) has only 13 players.