One of the great joys of coaching is watching a team mature and “buy in” as a season progresses. Welcome to Coach Joe Fehlker’s world. His Hillsboro freshman baseball team has won three straight games and currently stands at 5-4 on the season.
“It was a good week for us, and I am proud of the guys for picking up three wins, especially going on the road last night to Cape Central for such a long trip. The players are really working hard and buying into our team concept.”
Wednesday, the Hawks had big second and third innings to take an 8-2 decision over Farmington. “This was a really good game all-around for us,” Fehlker said. “We hit the ball very well, did an excellent job on the bases, and our pitchers were fantastic.”
Cruz Valencia started on the mound and threw five strong innings, allowing just one run on three hits. He struck out eleven. He was later relieved by Cole Johnson and he picked up right where Valencia left off. He struck out four in two innings, allowing just one run.
In a five run second inning, Hillsboro used hits from Valencia, Andrew Chaves, and Junior Arnold. “We also did a great job of running the bases with Arnold, Valencia and Gavin Mahan each picking up two stolen bases,” Fehlker pointed out.
The Hawks also scored three runs in the third inning. Chaves drove home one run with a base hit, and an error allowed two other runs to score.
Fehlker was also pleased with the defense. “Although we didn’t have to make many plays in the field because of the 15 strikeouts, we still had some things to brag about,” he said. “Tyler Watson threw out two runners trying to steal second base, and Nathaniel Sloss made a diving catch in left field. Overall, I was really pleased with the boys’ effort and focus. Our pitchers did a great job of throwing strikes, and our hitters and base runners were very aggressive, which is always our goal.”
So the Hawks traveled to Cape Girardeau on Thursday for a double header against the Cape Central Tigers. In the first game, the host Tigers didn’t know what hit them. Hillsboro scored two runs in the first, seven in the second, and eight in the third. Those 17 runs were enough to end the game after three innings due to the 15-run rule, as the Hawks took a 17-0 victory.
Ben Schamburg was the beneficiary of all the offense, but he certainly did his part on the mound. He went the distance, allowing just one hit. “He has been very reliable on the mound for us all season,” Fehlker said. Schamburg said he felt great on the mound. “I thought I did really good,” he said. “I threw a lot of strikes. My four-seam was really working when I got them to two strikes. They had a hard time hitting the ball when it was on the outside corner.”
At the plate, everyone contributed. Arnold led the way with three hits, all of them doubles. He also drove home three runs. “I’m pretty satisfied with my performance last night,” he said. “I had some really good hits. I stayed focused throughout the game, and did what I could and tried my best.”
Fehlker said that the offensive explosion was the result of several factors. “Johnston and Tate Volmert picked up really nice hits,” he said. “Both of our big innings were, in part, initiated by our aggressive base running. I have been really pleased with how hard our players run the bases, and they are always looking to pick up an extra base and put pressure on the defense. We finished the game with 11 stolen bases.”
So with the first game in hand, the second game would turn out to be totally different. The Hawks got up 6-1 early after the first two innings. The big blow was a three run homer over the right field fence by Watson. “I’ve been struggling a little at the plate the last few games, so it felt good to hit the ball well,” Watson admitted. “That was my first home run, so it was a cool feeling rounding third and seeing all my teammates at the plate. It was a close game, and everyone on the team really stepped up and hit the ball well.”
Central came back to tie the game 6-6 after four innings. “We had a few lapses in the field that allowed Cape to get back in the game,” said Fehlker. “However, in the top of the fifth we put together some nice at-bats to get a two run lead back. Chase Frank singled in one run, and another scored on an error to give Hillsboro an 8-6 lead. “Chaves came in to relieve Arnold and threw the ball very well,” Coach Fehlker said. “He finished the night with five strikeouts in four innings.”
Hillsboro added a run in the sixth when Mahan scored on a wild pitch. But as Coach Fehlker describes, the bottom half of the inning challenged the Hawks. “In the bottom of the sixth, Cape had a man on second and already had one run in (to make it 9-7) when Chaves made a really outstanding defensive play. The batter hit a swinging bunt up the third base line. Andrew knew he wasn’t going to be able to get the batter at first, so he faked and got the runner rounding third. He was able to dive and tag him out, giving us one out with only one runner on instead of first and third with no outs. That was the game-changing play of the night.”
The Hawks weren’t able to score in the top of the seventh, so they turned the game over to Frank to close out the game. “Well, I was nervous at first,” Frank admitted. “But I settled in and threw strikes.” Indeed he did. For the inning, Frank threw 18 pitches, 11 of which were strikes. The end result was Frank striking out the side to win the game. “When I struck the last batter out, I was so excited, and glad we ended up winning the game,” he exclaimed.
The Hillsboro offense was solid again, picking up ten hits and seven walks. Arnold, Schamburg, and Watson had doubles, along with Watson’s round tripper. “Eight different batters collected hits,” said Fehlker. “I was glad to see us do a better job in both games of driving in runs with men on base, sometimes with just a simple ground ball or fly ball.”
The Hawks hope to continue their winning ways next week, starting at Chaminade on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.