It's been a struggle for the Grain Valley baseball team to score through its first six games, averaging just two runs per contest.
Thursday's conference showdown with Odessa was no different, but the Eagles can't say they didn't have their chances. They stranded 10 runners on base and hit 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in a 8-2 loss to the Bulldogs on its newly renovated baseball field, which the school dedicated prior to the game (see story at examiner.net).
“We had several opportunities, and we just squandered them,” Grain Valley coach Mark Lyford said after his team fell to 1-8 overall and 0-3 in the Missouri River Valley Conference West. “Part of that was our poor pitch selection. We swung at some bad pitches and got ourselves out.”
Grain Valley's had three golden opportunities to push across several runs, but its attempts for a big inning against Odessa starting pitcher Talon Searles failed to manifest. The team had the bases loaded and one out in the first, but a force-out at home and flyout off the bat of Nick Alvarado allowed Searles to escape unscathed.
In the second, the home squad had the runners at second and first with no outs before Ethan Childress was caught stealing at third and Searles induced a strikeout and groundout to escape another jam.
“He just wiggled out, wiggled out, wiggled out,” Odessa coach Kerry Shaw said of Searles, who went the distance and struck out five in his complete-game victory. “He's pitched really well this year.”
“That seems to be happening continuously, and it's frustrating,” Grain Valley sophomore Zack Ehlen said of coming up empty in scoring situations. “But hopefully it stops soon.”
The Eagles' best chance to put together a big inning came in the fifth when Ehlen, Crayton Smith, Zac Slaven and Ryan Niemann all singled to finally get their team on the board, cutting the deficit to 3-1. That's when the Bulldogs pulled off another escape act, striking out Alvarado and getting Childress to fly out to get out of the frame with minimal damage.
On the defensive side, errors doomed the Eagles and spoiled a solid performance from pitcher Landon Hedrick, who allowed three runs (all unearned) in 4 1/3 innings while fanning five. He took a no-hitter into the fourth before Cole Courtway's single broke it up. An errant throw home allowed Courtway to score, which was followed by an RBI single from Austin Wilson and a bases-loaded walk by Cameron Hillbrenner, putting the Bulldogs ahead 3-0.
With a 3-1 lead in the sixth, Odessa added an insurance run when Searles singled and later come around to score on Grain Valley's fifth and final error to make it 4-1.
“When we fall behind, it seems like we have more errors,” Hedrick said. “We have to find a way to keep ourselves up and keep from getting down when we commit them.”
The Eagles cut the Bulldog lead to two when Mitch Chapman scored from third on a balk in the bottom half of the inning.
Odessa then opened up the floodgates in the seventh, scoring four runs on Morgan Miller's RBI double, Wilson's two-run single and Hillbrenner's two-out RBI base hit.
One bright spot in Grain Valley's loss was Ehlen, who went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a run scored.
“He (Searles) wasn't overwhelmingly fast on his pitches, and I just came out of a slump, so I just stayed relaxed and made contact with the ball,” Ehlen said.