After a rough start, the Smith-Cotton baseball team settled down but could not rally back in an 8-3 loss to Ray-Pec Wednesday at Dey Field at Liberty Park in the first game of the West Central Missouri Baseball Tournament.
The Panthers scored four runs while batting around in the first inning and added two more before the first out was recorded in the second before freshman Gavin Jones came on in relief and shut Ray-Pec down for the next three innings.
Jones came on with a runner on third and no one out in the second, inducing a pop fly and a grounder to first to get the first two outs of the inning with no chance of the runner scoring from third. A fly ball to right ended the threat.
“We had to bring him in in the second inning and he shut down the last half, ended up giving us a chance to come back in the ball game,” said Smith-Cotton coach Jud Kindle. “You can’t ask anything more of a pitcher than what he did.”
Jones worked around a two-out error in the third and a two-out hit-by-pitch in the fourth before allowing two runs in the fifth. Jones allowed two runs in four-plus innings, striking out three, walking one, hitting one and allowing five hits.
“He’s young,” Kindle said. “He’s a freshman, but at the same time he showed a lot of savvy on the mound. That’s promising for us.”
Chase Plymell came on to pitch the sixth after the first two batters reached against Jones. Plymell got the first two batters he faced, walked the third to load the bases, then got out of the inning with a strike out.
A.J. Paul started the game for the Tigers and got off to a rough start. After the first two batters reached, Ray-Pec pitcher Evan Rathburn hit a sharp grounder to first which took a big hop and went over the head of Smith-Cotton first baseman Cody Kozak into right to score two runs. Logan Moore hit a two-out, two-on single up the middle to score two more runs.
In the second inning, the first two batters again reached and Rathburn followed with a triple to right-center to score two.
“We got ourselves in a rut right off the go and it’s hard to get out of that rut,” Kindle said. “I was proud of our guys fighting back and making it a ball game. The score’s 8-3, but if you take away the first inning, it’s a completely different ball game.”
On the mound, Rathburn dominated the Tigers early. He set them down in order in the first with a strike out and a pair of ground-outs. Paul worked the count back from 0-2 to draw a one-out walk in the second, but a strike out and a fly ball stranded him there. Dakota Brown reached on an error to lead off the third, but Rathburn worked out of the jam to keep Smith-Cotton off the scoreboard.
“The starting pitcher had a little velocity,” Kindle said. “We started out behind him and we started making adjustments. Our bats were slow. We just weren’t getting to his fastball. We tell our hitters to learn from their first at bat and what we learned from the first at bat was we were behind him so we had to get our barrels out and make him use his off-speed. Once we did that, we played pretty well.”
Tiger bats came alive in the fourth. Freshman catcher Nick Hagedorn led off the inning with a triple to right-center.
“He’s a pure hitter,” Kindle said. “It doesn’t matter it he’s throwing fast or slow, he’s going to put the barrel on it. He’s got great hands. He’s confident in his swing.”
Dom Zerilli got Smith-Cotton on the board with a two-run homer down the line in right to make it 6-2 Ray-Pec.
“Dom had a good at bat,” Kindle said. “It was a two-strike pitch and our approach changes with two strikes, we’re looking to drive the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. He put it right down the line and put a good swing on a good approach.”
Smith-Cotton scored again in the sixth when a wild pitch brought Kozak home from third.
Smith-Cotton (5-3) will host Harrisonville at 5 p.m. today at Liberty Park.