(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
ORAN -- Once Oran seniors Mac McConnell and Gabe Kielhofner got going, the rest of the Eagles started to follow suit. Whether it started during the season or on Thursday afternoon.
They struggled mightily in the first half of the season with batting averages well below .200, but with injuries to two starters and a quick pep talk from coach Mitch Wood, both McConnell and Kielhofner turned their seasons around.
"Early in the season, we were struggling at the plate," McConnell said. "Coach pulled us aside and told us what he expected out of us. From there, we just built off of it.
"I think it has impacted the team as a whole too, what we've been doing."
The senior duo currently leads the Eagles in batting average and has became the catalyst to an explosive offensive unit. Showing their improvements to be true, McConnell and Kielhofner sparked Oran to a 23-9 win over the East Prairie Eagles in five innings where McConnell, Kielhofner and Trent Irwin were presented with a team-signed baseball in recognition of Senior Day at Oran High School.
"We were hitting lower in the lineup at the beginning of the year and wasn't really hitting all that great," Kielhofner said. "We had two of our guys get hurt and from then, we moved up in the lineup and have been hitting the ball.
"We felt like we had to take control and start doing something. Everybody has just been hitting too. It's contagious I guess."
Of the 18 hits Oran had against East Prairie, McConnell and Kielhofner, who bettered their batting average close to .150 points from their junior campaign, combined for five of them. McConnell went 3-for-3 with one RBI while Kielhofner went 2-for-2 with three RBI.
With runners on second and third in the bottom of the first inning, Kielhofner, the No. 3 hitter in the lineup, drove in the first of many runs on the day with a sacrifice fly to center field. McConnell, the No. 4 hitter, singled in the second run.
The rest of the Oran lineup followed in their footsteps with a total of six runs in the first inning on three hits.
"The past couple of games we've been hitting the ball and that's been a problem for us throughout the year," Kielhofner said. "Today, we just found ways to get on base. We just hit the ball."
After six runs in the first, Oran pushed a whooping 15 more runs across the plate in the second inning. Oran crushed doubles and found holes for singles in a 13-hit, second inning hitting display.
"Oran came out swinging the bat," East Prairie head coach Gary Scott said. "Everything they hit was hit hard and was in the gap. I was just thinking and hoping they'd just hit one at us.
"It was just one of those days where we couldn't get an out."
Nolan Urhahn and Alex Heuring followed in the seniors footsteps with three hits apiece. They each went 3-for-3 with four RBI. Freshman Kody Moore, who also started the game, had one hit which was the loudest and farthest of the day. Moore hammered a two-run home run well over the 351 sign in centerfield.
"I've seen a lot of hard hit balls out here," Wood said. "That's one of the hardest I've seen. It was tattooed."
Moored ended up getting the win in the lop-sided affair but was tagged with seven earned runs on eight hits and four walks. He struck out four hitters in his three innings on the mound.
"He's a freshman," said Wood. "The thing about him is he works at it. He's not going to quit on you.
"He's pitching about like he has been for a freshman."
Although down by 20 runs at the end of the second inning, East Prairie did not fold it up. They got to Moore for the majority of their runs in the third and fourth inning where they scored three apiece. East Prairie (12-8) had 11 hits on the day and impressed their coach with their fight and determination not to give up.
"We didn't quit," Scott said. "I give us credit. We hung in there and put up nine runs which would win you a lot of games.
"We've been down several games and they never give up. That's what I'm the most proud of them for."
Kaleb Williford, Connor Scott and Zach Downing all had two hits. Scott drilled a solo home run in the second inning while Aaron Miller drove in a team-high three RBI.
While both teams try and gear up for their respective district tournaments, Oran feels that they are right where they need to be. They finished the regular season with a 15-8 mark and will face the Delta Bobcats, a team they previously beaten this year, in the first round of the Class 1, District 2 tournament on Monday.
"I think we feel pretty comfortable going into districts with the three seed," said Kielhofner. "I feel we have the hitting and a little bit of pitching to go deep into the tournament and hopefully win a championship."
"Anytime you come out late in the season and play well I think that helps you build towards districts," McConnell added. "It's going to be a tough road to win that district. You can't overlook anybody so, we just have to come out and play our game.
"I think we'll be alright."
East Prairie 0 1 3 32 -- 9 11 1
Oran 6(15)0 2x -- 23 18 0
WP -- Kody Moore. LP -- Dalton Golightly. Multiple hitters -- (E) Kaleb Williford 2-3, Connor Scott 2-4, Zach Downing 2-2; (O) Dalton Elfrink 2-4, Gabe Kielhofner 2-2, Mac McConnell 3-3, Nolan Urhahn 3-3, Alex Heuring 3-3. 2B -- (E) Williford, Matt Dorris; (O) Elfrink 2, McConnell, Blake Carlyle, Urhahn 2, Heuring. HR -- (E) Scott; (O) Moore.