Ideally baseball teams use late regular season non-conference games to sharpen individual and team skills before the win-or-go-home post season begins. Litchfield as the hosts and Hillsboro as the visitors had that chance Tuesday afternoon, May 7, as they met for the third time this season with little but bragging rights at stake. After two innings of struggle more typical of first-of-the-season games, the Toppers' Tanner Mullen pitched Hillsboro to a 14-6 win.
The Toppers reached Purple Panther starter Billy Beckham for only two hits, but four runs in the first inning, as Kaden Lemon (who drew a walk after fouling off seven full count pitches), Landon Carroll (a single), and Griffin King (a walk) reached base and then moved around on a series of wild pitches. Both Lemon and King scored three runs in the game although each had only one hit.
With one out, Nic Ondrey walked (he walked three times and scored three times) and came home to score on Brock Bellaver's RBI single to make it 4-0 before Litchfield came to bat.
Bellaver, Hillsboro's starting pitcher, also suffered from terminal wildness; after one out, Jacob Frerichs singled to right and moved to third after Beckham's deep fly to the scoreboard in centerfield went under the fence for a ground rule double. After a full-count strikeout for the second out, Bellaver walked the next three batters (Jeremy Frazier, Blaine Stewart, and Chase Hires)) to force in two runs. Jude Bertolino came in from right field to pitch, and he walked Clayton Walch to force in Frazier with the third run, before ending the inning with a strikeout. What had seemed to be a blowout in the making became a one-run game quickly.
Beckham had thrown 48 pitches in the first inning, so he moved to short while Frazier took the mound. He struck out the first two men he faced, but then he hit Lemon with a 2-0 pitch. Lemon stole second before Carroll's RBI single.
Their two-run lead disappeared in the bottom of the second, though, as Bertolino walked Brady Bishop before surrendering singles to Beckham (who was three for four with three runs scored for Litchfield), Nick Braasch, and Blaine Stewart. Mullen came in with the game tied at five to get the last out of the inning.
Both Frazier and Mullen restored a sense of order to the contest. Frazier became the losing pitcher when Carroll (a double) and King (hit by a pitch) were driven in by Mullen in the fourth; Ondrey walked and scored in the fifth as Jace Tuetken and Bellaver sacrificed him around, with one of the bunts thrown into right field. Still, he was the most effective of the Panther pitchers.
Walch was effective in the sixth, but the Toppers combined two walks, four Litchfield errors, and hits by King and Mullen to score six runs in the seventh.
Mullen, meanwhile, pitched the last four innings of the game in an efficient manner. With the help of catcher Drake Vogel and shortstop King (Vogel threw out a runner attempting to steal in the third), Mullen retired the first 12 men he faced until Bishop singled in the sixth. In the seventh, singles by Beckham and Braasch and an error with one out, gave the hosts their last run.
The conference season ended Wednesday, May 8, when Piasa Southwestern came to Hillsboro; Saturday Hillsboro will travel to Edwards County for a season-ending doubleheader. Regional play for Hillsboro begins Wednesday, May 15, when the Toppers venture to Greenville to battle the Comets, who went undefeated in conference play.
May 7 at Litchfield
Hillsboro 410 210 6 14 9 2
Litchfield 320 000 1 6 9 4
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
Bellaver 0.2 3 3 2 1 3
Bertolino 1.0 2 2 3 1 2
W-Mullen 5.1 1 1 4 3 0
Litchfield IP R ER H K BB
Beckham 1 4 4 2 2 3
L-Frazier 4 4 3 5 4 2
Walch 2 6 4 2 2 3
*Frazier 2 HBP
Multiple Hits: Hillsboro - Landon Carroll (3-5, 1RBI), Tanner Mullen (2-5, 2RBI); Litchfield - Billy Beckham (3-4), Brady Bishop (2-3), Nick Braasch (2-4). 2B: Hillsboro - Landon Carroll 1, Tanner Mullen 1, Nic Ondrey 1; Litchfield - Billy Beckham 1.
Records: Hillsboro (10-9); Litchfield (5-15).