Baseball Hornets’ big lead gets away in tourney opener

Macon forces extra innings with 5-runs seventh, wins 8-6 in nine Thursday

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Sophomore pitcher Landon Winder of the Chillicothe High School baseball Hornets fires a second-inning pitch to a Macon batter during the teams’ Thursday afternoon contest which opened the 2021 Hornets Baseball Classic in Chillicothe. Despite some early wildness which saw him hit two of the first three batters and walk the fourth, Winder limited once-beaten Macon to an unearned run on one hit over the four innings he threw, leaving  with a 6-1 lead. Macon, however, pulled the game out of the fire, winning 8-6 in nine

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — A seemingly-certain, impressive victory which might have propelled them toward a title-game appearance in their own tournament today vanished at the last minute for the Chillicothe High School baseball Hornets Thursday.

In the opening game of the Hornets Baseball Classic at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium, CHS led Macon 6-1 with one out in the top of the seventh inning and 6-2 with two outs and one runner on, only to see the Tigers (12-1) beat very long odds and the Hornets 8-6 in nine innings.

After tying the contest with a 3-runs double that capped a 5-runs seventh, Macon – a 12-1, 5-innings winner over Chillicothe at Shaffer Park Stadium about a month earlier – used a 1-out single and double, a wild pitch, and a passed ball to post two markers in the top of the ninth.

When relief pitcher Chrisjen Riekeberg completed a third inning of scoreless relief, the Tigers had pulled victory from deep in the jaws of defeat.

The outcome dropped CHS to the .500 mark (7-7) on the year heading into a second “pool-play” game against St. Joseph: Benton later Thursday evening.

After Macon exploited a 2-outs, none-on fielding error for a run on leadoff man Chrisjen Riekeberg’s looping single down the right-field line in the top of the second, Chillicothe shrugged off squandering a bases-loaded, 1-out chance in the home second to jump in front in the third.

Mason Baxter’s sharp single through the right side led off the bottom of the third and Griff Bonderer followed with a bunt he ended up beating out. When Brock Ward was hit by a pitch, CHS had the sacks stuffed again, this time with no outs. They didn’t let this opportunity slip away.

Following a strikeout, Brock Miller chopped a bouncer over the pitcher’s head on which the shortstop couldn’t complete his charging stab at the ball. That let Miller reach with the second of his 3-straight infield hits as the tying run crossed the plate.

Sophomore Blake Miller of the Chillicothe High School baseball Hornets races to beat the throw to first base after tapping a second-inning pitch between the pitcher's mound and third-base line. Miller got the safe call for the first of his three infield hits in the game, but was stranded at third base on this occasion. Macon rallied from a 6-1 deficit in the seventh inning to win 8-6 in nine.

A throwing error on an attempted force play at the plate let Bonderer score the go-ahead run, but Chillicothe would have gained the lead anyway when sophomore outfielder Wyatt Brandsgaard lashed a line drive over the right fielder’s head for a 2-runs, opposite-field double and 4-1 Hornets lead.

Gabe Hansen then poked a 2-2 pitch into right field for a RBI single one pitch after a borderline delivery was called a ball, rather than strike three, plating courtesy runner Alijah Hibner for a fifth run of the inning.

The Hornets added a run to their lead in the fourth when Ward led off with a single, courtesy runner Trent Keith moved up on a grounder to first, Miller beat out a roller toward shortstop, and Winder bounced out to shortstop.

That 6-1 lead looked plenty safe going to the seventh inning after Winder, who threw four 1-hit, no earned runs innings gave way to Bonderer, who threw scoreless fifth and sixth frames. However, that appearance proved deceiving.

A leadoff infield single and a 1-out double to the gap in left-center gave the Tigers a ray of hope. A fly out to center seemed to quell the uprising, but an error on a would-be game-ending grounder to third let another run score and seemed to rattle Chillicothe’s and Bonderer’s confidence.

Another drive to left-center went for a double which brought the potential tying run in the batter’s box. A walk then let that man get aboard, setting the stage for a booming double to deep left by Mykel Linear that cleared the bases and stunningly tied the game.

Statistically, Riekeberg, who earned the win in relief after beating Chillicothe as a starter with five 1-hit, shutout innings in the March meeting, allowed one hit and two walks in his three innings as MHS’ third pitcher of the game. He escaped a 2-outs jam in the eighth, getting a comebacker with men at first and third following the two free passes.

Taking the loss for Chillicothe was its third hurler, junior righthander Brock Ward (1-1). He entered the game in the seventh after Macon had tied it off first reliever Griff Bonderer and stranded the potential go-ahead run at second with a 3-pitches strikeout.

In the eighth, he walked a couple of men, but left two aboard before being touched for the two tallies in the ninth.

Offensively, CHS out-hit the winners 10-9, but had only two hits off the two Tigers relievers over the final four innings. While Macon had fewer hits, it had five doubles, including three in its big seventh.

The Hornets’ 10-hits attack was paced by Miller’s 3-for-5 game, although he never got the ball out of the infield. Brandsgaard, a fellow sophomore, singled and doubled in five trips to the plate, and Baxter had two singles and a walk in four official at-bats. Brandsgaard, with two, was the only CHS batter with more than one run batted in.

Defensively, Macon was charged with one error and Chillicothe made only two. However, the Hornets’ miscues turned into five unearned runs that meant the difference between a big morale-boosting triumph and the frustrating defeat.