As assistant coach Evan Malloy pointed out to me on the baseball bus trip to Roxana Thursday evening, May 6, it would be my last trip to the home of the Shells before they no longer compete in the South Central Conference; it was a mixed blessing.
I was there this late winter when the basketball Toppers upset the more experienced Shells despite the efforts of the four-year starter guard Gavin Huffman; I was there in early spring when Huffman as quarterback gained a measure of revenge as his team’s quarterback when the football Toppers lost a relatively close contest. Now, especially after volunteer coach Mike Rappe said the baseball team would face a 90+ miles per hour fastball at the end of the bus trip, I assumed I’d see Huffman on the mound.
The Toppers took the field with a 2-4 record, struggling to find consistent pitching (high school teams didn’t play or practice last spring, and the short pre-season this spring wasn’t conducive to arm development). The chance for a rout were high.
It was, but it wasn’t at the same time. According to Rappe’s calculations, Huffman’s fastball reached the high 80’s, and that’s very good. He struck out 10 while walking only two, but the Toppers reached him for 7 hits over the six innings he pitched.
Gavin Matoush had the starting assignment for the Toppers, and the game was tied 3-3 after four and a half innings. The Toppers pulled off a 1-2-3 double play to end the third inning; and, for the first time this spring, the defense committed no errors in the game.
Dillon Smail singled to lead off; Drake Vogel doubled him to third, and with one out Matoush rapped a ground ball to short that was mishandled, allowing Smail to score.
Roxana took the lead in the second. Three singles loaded the bases with one out; a sacrifice fly to Hayden Grosenheider in deep center scored the go-ahead run after a wild pitch tied the contest.
The lead grew to two in the third. Three Shell singles sandwiched by a hit-by-pitch batter produced a run and loaded the bases. Disaster loomed, but Matoush struck out the eight-spot man. Then Matoush fielded a ground ball, threw it to catcher Blaze Helton for a force out at home, and relaxed as Helton threw to first to end the inning.
Helton celebrated with a one-out double in the Topper fourth. Brady Meier became Helton’s courtesy runner; he would score a two-out run after Devin Speiser walked when Smail singled. Vogel singled Speiser in with the tying run.
Matoush induced two infield pop-ups and a fly ball to left-fielder Drew Willman, but Huffman went one-two-three in the Topper fifth too, thanks partially to a backhand stab of a ground ball up the middle by Shell second baseman Holden Jones that robbed Matoush of a hit.
The Shells, though, scored eight runs in the fifth to break the game open. A single, a double, and a walk loaded the bases. Matoush struck out the next batter, Ted Webb, who had already singled twice, but then the Shells pinch-hit for their designated hitter. The new man singled sharply into right. After another single, Jace Tuetken came in to pitch with the Shells ahead 5-3. The bases were loaded, the Shells had momentum; six batters later the inning was over, but the Shells were ahead 11-3. Huffman was the winning pitcher, and he had also garnered two hits before leaving the game after the sixth.
Roxana is now 6-2, 2-0 in the conference; the 2-5 Toppers look for their first South Central Conference win as they host Pana today, Monday, May 10 if field conditions permit. Tuesday the Toppers head to Morrisonville for a 4:30 first pitch.
May 6 at Roxana
Hillsboro 100 200 0 3 7 0
Roxana 021 080 x 11 14 1
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
Matoush 4.1 8 8 11 3 3
Tuetken 1.2 3 3 3 0 2
*Matoush 1 HBP
Roxana IP R ER H K BB
Huffman 6 3 2 7 12 1
Floyd 1 0 0 0 2 0
Hits: Hillsboro - Dillon Smail 2-3, Drake Vogel 2-3; Roxana - Connor House 3-4, Kaleb Hinkle Pruett 2-4, Gavin Huffman 2-4, Ted Webb 2-4. 2B: Hillsboro - Drake Vogel 1, Jace Tuetken 1, Blaze Helton 1; Roxana - Gavin Huffman 1, Braeden Wells 1, Connor House 1. Runs: Hillsboro - Dillon Smail 1, Brady Meier 1, Devin Speiser 1. RBI: Hillsboro - Dillon Smail 1, Gavin Matoush 1, Drake Vogel 1.
Record: Hillsboro (2-5); Roxana (6-3).
The stadium was charming, the weather was wonderful, but the Vandal bats were overwhelming when Hillsboro traveled to Vandalia for a non-conference baseball game Wednesday, May 5. The game had been scheduled for Tuesday, but the weather forced the change, in the process cancelling a game at Springfield Lutheran for Wednesday.
The Toppers scored first, without the benefit of a hit, in the top of the first; with two out, Drake Vogel reached on an error, moved to second as Jace Tuetken was hit by a pitch, to third as Gavin Matoush walked, and scored when Hayden Grosenheider was also hit by a pitch by Vandal hurler Jayden Lotz.
The Vandals answered with a game-changing 10 run first, sending 16 batters to the plate while collecting eight hits, a walk, a hit batsman, and a reached on error before relief pitcher Devin Speiser struck out the sixteenth man to strand two. The error came in the middle of the barrage and meant four of the runs were unearned, but they still counted toward the total that eventually meant a short game because of the mercy rule.
Speiser was relatively effective on the mound, allowing only two runs in his 2 1/3 innings of work, but the Toppers could only score one more run against Lotz. In the third Smail walked, moved over on a Vogel single, and scored on a ground ball by Tuetken. The only other Topper hit was a single by Deklan Riggs in the fourth. Lotz walked three and struck out five in his complete game, five inning performance.
Vandalia scored single runs in the second and fourth inning to reach the 12 total that meant the game was over when Hillsboro went quietly in the top of the fifth. Four Vandals had at least two hits, with Connor Ray collecting three. The Vandals had one error, the Toppers three. The two teams meet again in conference play in Hillsboro on Monday, May 17.
May 5 at Vandalia
Hillsboro 101 00 2 2 3
Vandalia (10)10 1x 12 13 2
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
Anderson 0.2 8 3 6 0 1
Speiser 2.1 3 3 5 2 1
Helton 1.0 1 3 2 0 1
*Speiser 1 HBP
Hits: Hillsboro - Drake Vogel 1-3, Deklan Riggs 1-2. Runs: Hillsboro - Drake Vogel 1, Dillon Smail 1. RBI: Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 1, Hayden Grosenheider 1.
Record: Hillsboro (2-4, 0-1).