(David Jenkins photo)
CHARLESTON -- Although it may be early in the season, it's never a bad idea to size up the defending champs.
The Charleston Fighting Squirrels had a chance to do just that as they hosted the defending Senior Babe Ruth Missouri state champion, Jackson, on Monday at Hillhouse Park.
"We're always getting reads (on teams)," Charleston head coach Michael Minner said. "We've got our spray chart going and we're making sure we're prepared for the postseason. We know they're going to be there waiting on us."
The Squirrels, who had won four-straight state championships before Jackson ended their run, greeted last year's title holder with a 6-2 win behind a strong pitching performance from Charleston hurler, Dalton Woodard, and a solid day at the plate throughout the entire lineup.
"Knowing that we're going to see them later on in the state tournament, it feels pretty good to beat them early and get a look at them," Squirrels shortstop Ethan Browning said. "We know what we have to do to beat them in the postseason."
Woodard, who's a lefty and features good velocity and an assortment of moving pitches, threw all seven innings and gave up one earned run on five hits. He walked two and struck out nine.
"He threw great," Browning said. "He throws hard, and from the left side, that's pretty much all you need. He mixed in some nasty stuff. He was pretty dominant."
"He threw strikes, mixed his curveball in and was down in the zone all night," Minner added about Woodard. "As we go through the season, his velocity will raise and the upside for him is huge."
With an array of big bats throughout their lineup, Charleston piled up 11 hits including two doubles and one triple to help Woodard's efforts.
Nearly every ball hit off of the Squirrels' bats seemed to be scorched.
"We feel like we're going to swing it once we get going," Minner said. "We've got some big guys in there. This may not be a small ball team. We may sit back and play for some doubles and that's fun too."
Their biggest scoring surge came in the fourth inning after the Squirrels were sparked by a rare occurrence.
Sikeston High School graduate Nathan Rodgers belted a triple to left centerfield earning a standing ovation from teammates in the dugout as the husky third baseman scooted into third base.
"Nathan hit it in probably the exact perfect spot for him to get a triple," Minner said. "He's a good kid and plays hard."
"Leading off an inning like that, that's what you need," Browning added about Rodgers' hit. "That inning we rallied up and got a lot of hits and pushed some runs across."
Rodgers later scored when Jonathan Boone hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield.
With two outs, Bobby Clark, Danny McKinney and Josh Boese all reached safely in succession to extend the inning.
Boese drove in Clark with a single while Brandon Peters drove in McKinney. Woodard helped his own cause with an RBI single.
The Squirrels plated their first run in the second inning to take the early advantage after Browning led off the inning with a double. Jonathan Boone, who finished with one hit and two RBIs, singled Browning in from second.
"We expect a lot out of this offense," said Minner. "We feel like this offense can be really, really good."
Charleston added another in the third when Marshall Stallings singled in their second run to go up 2-0.
Jackson scored once in the fifth and again in the seventh.
With two outs already in the inning, Jesse Lone, who started for Jackson on the mound, kept the inning alive with a single. He later was brought home by an RBI single from Spencer Sander to cut Charleston's lead to five.
Clay Roth drove in Jackson's second run of the game to make it the final of 6-2.
"Jackson's a good ball club," Minner said. "They're the defending state champs and they're always competitive. It's somebody we want to beat.
Peters and Woodard were the only Squirrels with multiple hits. They each had two singles apiece.
The Squirrels are back in action today when they travel to Jackson to take on their Senior Legion squad at 4 p.m.
Jackson 000 010 1 -- 2 5 0
Charleston 011 400 x -- 6 11 4
WP -- Dalton Woodard. LP -- Jesse Long. 2B -- (C) Seth Childers, Ethan Browning. 3B -- (C) Nathan Rodgers.