(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
EAST PRAIRIE -- One play on Monday seemed to put a stamp on the East Prairie Eagles' third straight loss to open the season.
Already down by one run and trying desperately to generate any kind of offense against the visiting Malden Green Wave, the Eagles saw an opportunity to put a tying run on the board.
A passed ball that got behind Malden catcher Dylan Earnheart gave East Prairie senior Aaron Miller a chance to score from third base.
The passed ball quickly scooted to the backstop and caromed perfectly right back to Earnheart. The catcher alertly made a Derek Jeter-esque flip to pitcher Tanner Murphy covering home plate.
Murphy applied a high tag to Miller, who was trying to slip underneath. It was a bang-bang play that went in favor of the Green Wave to end the inning and any hopes of East Prairie coming away with their first win of the season.
"That was a big play," East Prairie coach Gary Scott said. "It could have went either way. Unfortunately, we couldn't catch a break. He was called out and momentum was on their side."
In the top of the seventh, Malden rode the energy a plat at home seems to add to extend their lead. The Green Wave would eventually hold on to win 4-0.
"The key to it was that it got to the backstop quick," Malden coach Tim Harmon said about the tag out at home. "It looked like the flip was a little wide but (Murphy) made an athletic play to catch it and tag."
After Miller was tagged out, both teams were filled with added emotion. Words were exchanged between an elated team and a gloomy one as both benches cleared from each side of the field. Players stared each other down and chatted -- but nothing more than that. Both teams were separated hastily.
"We hadn't hit the ball all day, we got a ball in the dirt and we got a good break on the ball," Scott added about the play. "If he was safe right there, who knows what could have happened."
With each team nestled back inside their respective benches, Malden pounced on their opportunity to put the game out of reach in the top of the seventh.
A walk to Mitchell Coleman and a fielder's choice play that resulted in no outs put Malden's Coleman and Earnheart at second and third base. Murphy, Malden's feared No. 3 hitter, was intentionally walked to set up a force play at any base.
Senior Kyle Lemarr was lying in wait. Lemarr had one hit already in the contest.
"He had hit the ball hard all day and I knew that," Scott said about Lemarr. "We just needed a force out in effect."
On the first pitch he saw, Lemarr smoked a one-hopper over the centerfield fence for a ground-rule double to make it 3-0 Green Wave.
"We sat him one on a tee and he continued to do what he done all day," Scott continued about Lemarr. "That was a clutch hit."
"There was nothing bigger than the double in the seventh to add on a couple," Harmon said about Lemarr.
Murphy later scored in the same inning off an East Prairie throwing error making it 4-0 Malden.
Although East Prairie's Zach Downing belted a high, lofting double in the bottom of the seventh and Ryan Mathis followed as another base runner, the Eagles remained snake bit. They were not provided with a hit with runners in scoring position -- much like their previous game against Advance when they stranded 14 on the basepaths.
"We had guys on and still, we can't get that big hit," said Scott. "We're going to keep battling. It'll come."
Murphy, however, did his best to shut down East Prairie's offense by pitching the entire seven innings and striking out 15. He also gave up three hits -- two to Downing who had a double and a single.
The sophomore's late breaking curve ball kept East Prairie off balance for the most part. The Eagles seemed like they could not adjust to it's movement.
"Last year as a freshman, he didn't have to pitch much for us," Harmon said. "I've got him and a catcher and they kind of switch back and forth.
"If he keeps mixing it up like that he'll be tough. We played pretty good defense behind him for the most part."
East Prairie starter, Mikey Russell, pitched six innings giving way to Connor Scott in the seventh. Russell allowed just one run on an RBI single by Jordan McMunn in the sixth. He struck out seven Malden hitters as well.
"I couldn't be any happier with his performance," Scott said about Russell. "He mixed it up pretty good. He kept them off balance for the most part. We just couldn't produce any runs for him."
Malden 000 001 3 -- 4
East Prairie 000 000 0 -- 0
WP -- Tanner Murphy. LP -- Mikey Russell. 2B -- (M) Kyle Lemarr; (E) Zach Downing. 3B -- (E) Aaron Miller.