Baseball: Kelly 5, Poplar Bluff 4
BENTON -- The Kelly Hawks topped Poplar Bluff's late comeback with one of their own for a 5-4 win in a first-round play-in game of the SEMO Conference Baseball Tournament on Thursday.
Kelly (9-6), behind starter James Miller, took a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning before the Mules erupted for four runs.
Miller, cruising along with a four-hit, 10-strikeout effort, ran into trouble in the top of the seventh inning.
After hitting the leadoff batter, Miller came back to strike out the next two hitters, but a fielding error on a routine grounder kept Poplar Bluff alive. A second hit batsman followed by a bases-loaded single scored two runs, cutting the margin to 3-2.
"James Miller threw a great game for us," said Kelly coach Cory Johnson. "He got a little tired in that last inning and that's my fault for trying to get him the complete game and the shutout."
Bryce Faulkner came on in relief with runners on first and third and gave up a run-scoring single which was misplayed in the outfield allowing the lead run to cross the plate as Poplar Bluff, the 10th seed, went up 4-3.
Faulkner, the eventual winning pitcher, induced a comebacker to end the inning.
Kelly, the seventh seed, got its comeback rally started with Levi Felter's one-
out infield single.
Poplar Bluff starter Cameron Pickard was pulled for Taylor Boles, who struck out the first batter he faced but was unable to retire another Hawk batter.
Dallas Tew capped a gutsy at-bat by singling to right-centerfield on a 2-2 count. With runners at first and second, Boles suddenly lost command of the strike zone.
Dustin LeGrand walked to load the bases, then Faulkner's free pass plated Felter with the game-tying run.
Josh DeBrock, with a 3-2 count, worked a base on balls to send Tew home with the game-winning run, dropping Poplar Bluff to 3-12.
"The big thing was that we didn't put our heads down and quit," said Johnson. "We came back and battled and scratched out those two runs for the win."
Kelly, showing aggressiveness on the basepaths early, scored two runs in the first inning.
Felter walked, advanced to second on a wild pickoff throw then swiped third ahead of Tew's RBI single. Faulkner, aboard on a walk, intentionally forced a rundown to allow LeGrand, who had walked, gone to second on a wild pitch and stolen third, to score the second run.
"We haven't done a good job of getting the early lead," Johnson said. "With the wind howling in towards the catcher, we wanted to take the extra base when we could."
Three consecutive singles by Ross Lasiter, Chris Cooper and Ryan Essner produced the third run. Essner picked up the RBI.
Felter, Tew and Lasiter led the nine-hit Kelly offense with two hits apiece. Kelly, winning its fifth straight and sixth of seven starts, advances to the second round against No. 2-seed Cape Central today at 4 p.m.
A 15-5 loser to Cape Central earlier, Johnson thinks his Hawks will acquit themselves better in the rematch.
"They've (Cape Central) got a great ballclub, but we're playing better now with a little more confidence," he said. "Hopefully we can go in and throw strikes and make defensive plays, which we haven't done in the past against teams like Cape Central, and give ourselves a chance."