(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
SIKESTON -- With the absence of five regular starters for Monday's Junior Legion District 14 tournament title game against Jackson Post 158, Sikeston Auxiliary Unit 114 faced an uphill battle if they wanted to keep their season alive.
Though a strong start had Auxiliary Unit 114 hanging tight with Jackson through 3 1/2 innings, Post 158 went on to score nine unanswered runs en route a 12-3 win.
"Not very often will you hear me say I'm pleased with a 12-3 loss," Sikeston head coach Matt Johnson said. "But five of our kids tonight were 14 years-old. I thought they played great. They kept their heads in it and for four innings we were in the game so I was pleased."
After surrendering a pair of first inning runs, Unit 114 spent the second and third frames playing catch-up.
Blake Wolferdeng scored on a two-out error in the second inning to close Sikeston to within a run before singling in the third to plate Luis Matos from third.
Not long after Unit 114 had knotted things up, however, Jackson went on their biggest rally of the evening to take a commanding 7-2 lead. Kicking off a five-run, two-out rally in the bottom of the fourth, Landon Mills doubled in the go-ahead run before a single from Drew Bartels made it 4-2.
A line drive to center field by Jordan Hadden plated another two runs before a passed ball capped the rally and gave Post 158 a five-run advantage.
"We came out a little sluggish, which you definitely don't want to do for a championship game," Jackson coach T.J. Smith said. "They threw that lefty (Nathan Hampton) up there and he kept us off balanced. We figured him out, they went to the bullpen and we livened up after that."
Jackson added another run in the fifth with Sikeston retaliating by plating Austin Brown for their final run of the game in the top of the sixth. It was one final four-run rally by Post 158 in the bottom of the sixth that effectively sealed the game and left Jackson just one run short of a mercy-rule win.
Down to their final three outs in the top of the seventh, Sikeston popped up and struck out before a walk kept their hopes alive. By inducing a fielder's choice in the next at bat Jackson was able to lock up the district title.
On his team's late offensive push, Smith said, "We finally had some better at bats. That's one thing I kept telling them through the first four innings is to have some better at bats at least and make pitch-to-pitch adjustments. Figure it out and put the ball in play."
Pitching a full five innings, Post 158 starter Kelby Brown picked up the win. He allowed two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out five.
Taking the loss, Nathan Hampton pitched 3 2/3 frames in which he allowed seven runs on seven hits and two walks while fanning five. Surviving a rough first, Hampton went on to retire the side in order in both the second and third inning.
It wasn't until after inducing a double play ball to nearly get Sikeston out of a early jam in the fourth that Jackson started off its five-run rally.
"He's a 14 year old and he pitched lights out," Johnson said of Hampton. "They didn't have an answer for him for three and a half innings. The third time through the lineup they had their hands back and were ready."
For Sikeston, Matos had a triple that set up Unit 114's third inning rally while Nathan Hampton, Wolferdeng and Logan Hampton each collected a single.
After putting together a 3-10 record midway though the season, Sikeston finishes the year at 10-17.