The defensive miscues might not have proved so damaging for Grain Valley’s baseball team Tuesday, but combined with Oak Grove’s two-out bats and Austin Reader’s prowess on the mound they proved fatal for the Eagles in the teams’ Missouri River Valley Conference West opener.
Reader came within one out of a shutout, and the Panthers rapped nine hits to capitalize on five Grain Valley errors to post an 8-3 win at Oak Grove’s Webb Park.
None of those hits went for extra bases, but the Panthers (5-1) also stole six bases and laid down three sacrifice bunts (another bunt went for a hit) to augment their attack.
After Tony Phillips’ one-out infield single got Oak Grove on the board in the first, Austin Nibarger laced a two-run single with two outs. In the second, Dakota Hearn’s single plus an error scored Reader’s courtesy runner, and Drew Phillips added another RBI single with two outs.
“That’s big for anybody,” Oak Grove coach Kirk Sears said of his team’s opportunistic hitting. “Grain Valley does a great job of taking advantage when you make mistakes. Any time you play them you’ve got to take advantage of their mistakes. Two-out runs are even bigger than two-out hits.”
That was plenty of support for Reader, who had just one 1-2-3 inning but stranded seven runners through six innings. In the first he got an infield pop-up and liner to center to leave a runner at third. In the second he induced a pop-up and soft grounder to strand runners at second and third.
“He did a good job of changing speeds and a good job of using the strike zone,” Sears said of Reader. “He let the defense work behind him and pitched to contact.”
Reader, who struck out a pair and scattered eight hits and two walks, said he tried to throw strikes based on how the umpire was calling them and trusted his defense.
“Using the umpire’s zone to my advantage,” he said. “I wasn’t always looking for the strikeout.
“Up until high school I’d been a strikeout pitcher. When I got to high school, I had to change my approach and not be a strikeout guy.”
Reader’s counterpart, Grain Valley’s Alex Smith, struck out three and walked just the last batter he faced in 4 2/3 innings.
“That’s Alex. He did a good job throwing strikes,” Grain Valley coach Mark Lyford said after his team stumbled to 1-5. “They had some key hits in situations with two outs, but you can’t give good teams four or five outs in an inning and expect to win.
“We squandered a couple opportunities there early on. That could’ve changed the complexion of the game.”
Hearn’s two-out single in the sixth plated an unearned run and gave him a three-hit day. Then, a throwing error allowed two more runs in.
Reader’s shutout was spoiled when Zack Ehlen drew a two-out walk in the seventh and Jake Deselle, Crayton Smith and Zach Slaven followed with singles. Smith’s single came with a pair of errors tacked on.