Miscues sink Sikeston baseball while Lutheran South walks off 5-4 winners in Class 4 quarterfinal
SIKESTON -- Even when Lutheran South seemed to give the game away, Sikeston couldn't figure out a way to take it from them.
The Lancers, who committed six errors in the field and watched a four-run lead slip away, finally buckled down during a Class 4 quarterfinal against the Bulldogs in the bottom of the eighth inning when Sam Lombard hit a walk-off single for a 5-4 victory Thursday evening at VFW Memorial Stadium in Sikeston.
Sikeston ends the season with a 15-7 record while Lutheran South advances to their first state semifinal appearance since 2012.
There were nine errors and a few other costly miscues between the two teams during a game that might be remembered for its blunders more than its highlights.
Sikeston allowed four runs to cross the plate in the first three innings and all of them had the potential to be avoided if errors and misplays didn't play a part.
It will be especially haunting for the Bulldogs, who erased a four-run deficit and put the potential winning run in scoring position twice during the final two innings. Sikeston, who was the visiting team due to a coin flip, stranded eight base runners. Seven of them were in scoring position.
"We just made too many mistakes," first-year Sikeston coach Brett Kolons said. "That's a good ball club and when you give good ball clubs extra outs and extra chances it doesn't turn out well. I'm so proud of the kids and the way they battled back, but we just can't make those mistakes."
Sikeston's misfortunes set the tone early.
A throw to first from freshman shortstop Payton Howard sailed into the Lutheran South dugout on a double play turn allowed the first two Lancer runs.
A missed pop fly in foul territory by third baseman Nate Self ended up leading to another run in the second inning. The high popup hit off the heel of Self's glove giving Dan Taylor another life and the Lutheran South senior made it hurt with an RBI single two pitches later.
Another fielding error from Howard in the third allowed Vito Orlando to reach safely. A wild pitch and stolen base later, Orlando was trotting home on a single from Jacob Hager to make it 4-0 Lutheran South.
Kolons said those were runs that all could have been avoided.
"No doubt," he said. "There's things that go one way or the other and it changes the whole complexion of the ball game. It's baseball. That's how this game works."
But Sikeston was the beneficiary of sloppy play as well. They scored their first two runs in the top of the fourth after three-straight Lutheran South errors and back-to-back singles from Sam Cox and Noah Hicks to cut their deficit in half.
Sikeston had a chance to score another during Cox's single but courtesy runner PJ Kennard was caught by indecision once he rounded third base. Kennard came to a halt when Lancer left fielder Dan Taylor approached the ball, but was stuck between home and third when Taylor bobbled his retrieval. By the time Kennard made the choice to dash for home, Taylor gathered the ball and fired a throw to Brandon Hagar, who narrowly beat Kennard's head-first dive into the plate for the first out of the inning.
The Bulldogs continued to abuse Lutheran South's blunders in the top of the seventh inning in dramatic fashion.
Trey Smith lined a one-out double down the left field foul line and eventually scored on Lutheran South's sixth error of the game. Bryce Bays sent a two-out grounder up the middle and just a few steps to the left of Lutheran South shortstop Vito Orlando. The sophomore got behind the ball but didn't get his glove to the ground. Bays' hit rolled through Orlando's legs and into centerfield as Smith plunged into home plate to tie the game at 4-all.
"One thing they've done throughout the season is improve so much on how they handle adversity," Kolons said. "I'm so proud of them for that."
Sikeston's go-ahead run ended up 90 feet away on the same play, but Lutheran South reliever Jacob Hager wriggled out of the jam to keep the tie.
Will Pratt, who came in to relieve Sikeston starter Wyatt Pratt to start the fifth inning, got out of a jam in the bottom of the seventh to extend the game into extra innings. Sikeston's offense was able to put the potential winning run on second after a leadoff single by Hicks, who finished 3 for 4, and a sacrifice bunt from McKenzie Worth. But Hagar struck out the next two, which set up Lutheran South's winning run the next half inning.
Richard Minda, who had three errors at third, redeemed himself at the plate with a leadoff double to start the bottom of the eighth. The Lancers eventually worked the bases loaded after a fielder's choice play failed to cut down Minda at second and a walk to Justin Budrovich. Lombard, who was 0 for 3 in four previous appearances, was up next. With Sikeston's defense playing in, the senior lifted the first pitch he saw from Will Pratt into deep right field and over the head of Bryce Bays to end it in walk-off fashion.
"He's a senior and he knows with one swing he can change the whole ball game," Lutheran South coach Steve Pfund said about Lombard. "He doesn't let his previous at-bats bother him. I wasn't worried at all. I knew he was going to come through.
"There's not many teams that can win with six errors," Pfund added. "That's a credit to these guys and their tenacity. They never give up and they fight through adversity. They've done it all year long. We need to clean it up. Definitely need to clean it up before Thursday, but I'm proud of the way they battled."
Hager ended up with the pitching win after 1 1/3 innings of relief for Lutheran South. The freshman allowed one hit and struck out two on 21 pitches against six batters.
"That was a big spot for a freshman," Pfund said. "I was proud of him for coming through like he did."
Starter Austin Cheeley was in line for the win before Sikeston's clutch, tying run in the seventh. The senior threw 6 2/3 innings and gave up four runs (two earned) on seven hits. He struck out six and walked one before the 105 pitch count ended his day.
"If we played any defense behind him, he would have been able to finish it and not have to come out on a pitch count," Pfund said. "He pitched a heck of a game and deserved a win."
Wyatt Pratt threw four innings for the Bulldogs giving up four runs (two earned) on four hits. He struck out five and walked three and was constantly faced with long battles at the plate against a Lutheran South lineup that drove up his pitch count.
Pratt threw 36 pitches in the first inning and finished his four innings with 102.
"Wyatt didn't have his best stuff today, but he's just the absolute competitor," Kolons said. "No matter who it is he's going to compete the best he can."
Lutheran South (22-8-1) will take on Westminster Thursday at CarShield Field in O'Fallon, Mo.
The loss ended a resurgent season for Sikeston, who reached the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2004 and ended a 10-year district title drought.
They will lose eight seniors: Wyatt Pratt, Smith, Cox, Worth, Kennard, Max Ault, Camden Sapp and Josh Stinnett.
"It was a great season, especially for me being a first-year head coach who had a great group of kids to work with," Kolons said. "It's not so much me, its the kids and their effort and willingness to buy in and work. That's what really makes the program."
Sikeston 000 201 10 -- 4 8 3
Lutheran South 211 000 01 -- 5 8 2
WP -- Jacob Hager. LP -- Will Pratt. 2B -- Trey Smith (S), Wyatt Pratt (S), Justin Budrovich (LS), Richard Minda (LS). Multiple hitters: Sikeston -- Smith 2-4, Noah Hicks 3-4; Lutheran South -- Dan Taylor 2-5, Budrovich 2-4, Minda 2-4.