Baseball Hornets start district play today at Odessa

After 9-12 regular season, face fourth-seed Richmond at 11

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Chillicothe High School baseball Hornets senior pitcher/infielder Mason Baxter fires a pitch home during last Monday's sharp 6-1 CHS win over Savannah. Baxter earned credit for the pitching win, his second in five 2021 decisions to date, with four innings of 3-hits, 0-walks, 1-run ball.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Having completed their regular season with a 9-12 won-lost record early this week with a split of home games, Chillicothe High School’s baseball Hornets now face a nearly-straight-uphill challenge to avoid a second-straight losing season. A winning one? Well, they’d have to achieve the nearly-impossible – win a state championship – to do that.

That doesn’t mean a significant achievement – a district crown – is beyond their reach nor that, even falling short of that, the 2021 team hasn’t made encouraging strides.

Weather permitting – and at the time of this story’s deadline for filing Thursday afternoon, there was some doubt on that front, the Hornets are to start Class 4 District 15 Tournament play this morning at 11 o’clock at Odessa against Richmond.

In, aside from top-seeded host Odessa, what seems to be a balanced 5-teams district, the Hornets will open against an 11-10 Spartans squad they were slated to open this season against, but couldn’t because of bad weather.

As things turned out, CHS and RHS ended up with only one common opponent, which produced something of an oddity.

Chillicothe’s second game of the year was at Lawson and, with a crisp-enough performance – particularly for a second outing, the Hornets brought home a 3-2 victory.

Just over a month later, on April 26, Lawson’s Cardinals visited Richmond and the hosts claimed a 5-1 decision.

What is something of a head-scratcher about the situation is this: While both Chillicothe and Richmond ended up playing no better than break-even baseball in their other 20 or so games, Lawson has lost only one other time – in a wild 20-16 home game with Lathrop the day after its Richmond contest. Among the Cardinals’ victims have been two Midland Empire Conference brethren of the Hornets’ – St. Joseph: Benton and Cameron, as well as the strong Carrollton squad which defeated Richmond three times – twice by five or more runs. Lawson’s win over Carrollton was by a shocking 19-2 count.

Should Chillicothe play and survive today, its scheduled semifinals-round game in the District 15 tournament would be against the top-seeded, 17-5 OHS Bulldogs on Monday at 4 p.m.

While, on paper, that seems like a tall task to ask, it’s noteworthy that one of Odessa’s five defeats was delivered by Richmond, 4-3, during the Odessa Tournament in late March.

The other two teams in the District 15 event have records similar to CHS’ and Richmond’s and with similarly checkered 2021 resumés.

Second seed Excelsior Springs is 11-18 (yes, 11-18, but second-seeded) and No. 3 Oak Grove 10-10-1. 

Excelsior Springs, apparently playing what was viewed as an extremely-arduous schedule, does own a 4-3 win over Odessa, but it split two games against MEC teams, losing 11-4 to St. Joseph: Lafayette and defeating Benton 8-5.

In wrapping up the regular season earlier this week, CHS’ Hornets had a high point and a low one.

On Monday at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park Stadium’s “Chuck” Haney Field, they played perhaps their best game of the year, pitching and defending crisply and using timely hitting and aggressive baserunning to eliminate defending MEC champion Savannah from this year’s title race by a 6-1 margin.

The next day at home, with a couple of senior reserves getting the traditional start in the team’s final home game, Chillicothe was victimized by 2021 MEC champion Kansas City: St. Pius X 14-1 in a game which got out of hand only in the final frame.

Against Savannah, CHS played almost flawlessly in the field, including executing three different types of double plays to end each of the first three innings, the Hornets also were opportunistic on offense, turning eight hits into six runs.

Supported very well by the defense for one of the few times during the second half of the season, pitchers Mason Baxter (first four innings) and Griff Bonderer (last three) checked Savannah (15-9, 4-3 conf.) on seven hits.

Ahead only 2-1 going to the bottom of the sixth, the host Hornets strung together four hits out of their first five batters to boost their margin to 4-1. A run on a wild pitch and another on a successful double-steal swelled the spread to five runs.

That limited the concern immensely in the top of the seventh when Savannah used a 2-outs walk and single to create a mild threat. However, a popup to shortstop Baxter in short center field completed Bonderer’s – and the Hornets’ – third save of the season. Baxter (2-3) got the victory.

Chillicothe drew first blood in the bottom of the second inning on Landon Winder’s leadoff double down the left field line and Gage Leamer’s 1-out single through the hole into left field.

A fielding error on Baxter’s inning-starting grounder in the third led to the next Hornets run. After stealing second, he scored easily on Brock Ward’s hit.

Singles surrounding a sacrifice bunt and wild pitch put the guest Savages on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth, but that surprisingly turned out to be their only run.

Helping keeping SHS in check were a well-handled 3-6 double play started by Winder that ended the first inning, a strikeout-caught stealing twin-killing to close the second, and a 5-3 DP that defused a 2-on, 1-out sticky situation in the third. Tucker Wagers speared the hard-hit ball on a short hop at third, moved to the bag for the forceout, and threw a strike across the diamond to Winder to retire speedy Truman Bodenhausen.

After a scoreless fifth inning kept the Hornets on top 2-1, Winder’s second leadoff hit of the game lit the fuse on the 4-runs bottom of the sixth that blew a hole in the tight game.

Brock Miller followed with a single up the middle. After a double-steal put two men in scoring position, Ga. Leamer’s pop fly fell in short right field for a run-scoring double as Miller held up, in case the ball was caught, and only advanced 90 feet.

That became inconsequential when sophomore Trent Keith, on a safety-squeeze play, bunted perfectly about 45 feet up the first-base line, not only allowing the speedy Miller to score, but Keith to race safely to unoccupied first base.

After Keith swiped second, a wild pitch to the backstop let Ga. Leamer dart home from third without a play with the fourth insurance run of the inning.

Statistically, the host Hornets, who had lost 7-5 at Savannah in their season opener, out-hit the Savages 8-7. Winder, Keith, and Ga. Leamer had a pair of hits apiece for CHS with Winder and Ga. Leamer delivering the game’s only extra-base hits.

Baxter struck out three, walked none, and hit one in his winning 4-innings start, surrendering the one earned run. Bonderer dodged through three scoreless frames, despite four hits and a walk. He fanned only one. Aiden Leonard went the distance for Savannah.

Each team made one error with SHS’ leading to what proved to be the decisive run.

In their home finale the next day, the Hornets were hammered for 14 hits by the new conference champs from Kansas City. St. Pius X also received seven walks and three hit batsmen and benefitted from a handful of Chillicothe errors in a 14-1 victory.

Chillicothe High School 2020-21 senior Tucker Wagers pitched two scoreless innings of relief against Midland Empire Conference champion Kansas City: St. Pius X on "Senior Day" last Tuesday. SPX won the game 14-1.

The score was a more-respectable 7-1 after six innings before the visiting Warriors were handed a half-dozen unearned runs to go with one earned tally in the top of the seventh.

The only run Chillicothe, which tied Savannah for third in the final league standings at 4-3, scored came in the bottom of the first inning after SPX had put up three on two doubles, a single, a walk, and the first CHS error in the top half.

Senior Mason Baxter opened the Hornets’ half with a walk. After fellow seniors Braden Constant and Landon Swift were retired, a double by junior Brock Ward drove him home from second.

Chillicothe was held to only four hits and one base on balls by a pair of St. Pius X pitchers.