(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- Their usual proficiency on offense eluded them on Sunday as the Charleston Squirrels dropped their first game of the 2011 Midwest Plains Regional tournament to the defending Regional champions, Ottumwa, Iowa.
"We didn't give ourselves much of a chance to win," Charleston head coach Michael Minner said. "Offensively we just couldn't get going."
Iowa's starting pitcher, Jake Stalzer, had a bit to do with the Squirrels' offensive woes in the 4-2 loss. The crafty left hander gave up two runs on six hits. He also struck out seven.
Through the first six innings, Charleston scattered just three hits. The Squirrels added three more hits in the seventh and final inning.
"It's attributed to (Stalzer)," Minner said. "We probably didn't have good approaches at the plate most of the time. He pumped strikes, got ahead and nibbled corners. We swung at a lot of stuff."
The Squirrels, who have had a knack for using their big bats to battle back from deficits before, tried to work their magic after getting down by four runs in the final half inning.
It all started with a single by Danny McKinney, who went 2 for 3, followed by another single from Bryan Freed.
With one out and two runners on, Marshall Stallings grounded into an out which scored McKinney from third.
Seth Childers then pushed Freed across the plate with a double to deep left field cutting the Squirrels' deficit to just two runs.
Life, once again, sprung into the Squirrels' lineup after being silenced by Stalzer for most of the day following Childers' double.
With Bobby Clark at the plate representing the tying run, the always aggressive Childers, who finished the game with two hits, advanced to third on a passed ball. He tried doing the same on an overthrow to Ottumwa reliever, Craig Larkin, following a pitch to Clark. But, an alert play by Iowa shortstop, Austin Westercamp, cut Childers down at the plate to end the game as Childers was tagged out by Iowa catcher Tyler Evans attempting to score the Squirrels' third run.
"You hate to see a game end like that for him," Minner said. "We didn't even mention anything about it after the game because he knows it was a wrong move. We'll put that behind us and learn from it.
"We just didn't hit until late," Minner added. "We had opportunities but couldn't get the big hit."
Iowa jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning after Jory Heckenberg and Mack Mattke each drove in runs on a single and an infield single respectively.
Ottumwa, who has remained undefeated so far in the tournament, added two more in the fourth inning following back to back walks to Jackson Salter and Jordan McDonald. Evans singled in Evans while Westercamp doubled in McDonald to give the defending champs a 4-0 cushion.
Bobby Clark, who pitched all seven innings, took the loss for Charleston. He gave up four runs on five hits and three walks. He also struck out four.
"He probably should have gave up just two," Minner said about Clark. "If we made a few more plays it could have been less -- you just never know. He battled his tail off. He didn't have command of his curveball early, but as he worked into the game he started to locate it.
"He kept us in the ball game against a real good hitting team."
Charleston now faces an uphill battle as they need to win three-straight games to win the Regional tournament. The Squirrels will play the Minnetonka, Minn., Mudhens after the Mudhens defeated Columbus, Kan., 4-3 in the night cap on Sunday.
"This is what we've prepared for all year," said Minner. "We just have to win three in a row and we can do that. We've got pitching left."
Charleston will play Minnetonka at 11 a.m. today. The winner of that game will play Iowa at 2 p.m. in the championship game. If Iowa loses in the championship game, an if-necessary game will be played on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
Iowa 002 200 0 -- 4
Squirrels 000 000 2 -- 2
WP -- Jake Stalzer. LP -- Bobby Clark. S -- Craig Larkin. 2B -- (O) Austin Westercamp; (C) Seth Childers.