When Chad Sutton crushed a two-run homer to deep left-center field to cap an eight-run first inning Wednesday afternoon at Fort Osage High School, it appeared the Indians were on their way to a quick and easy victory over St. Pius X in the Northland Tournament.
A scrappy St. Pius squad managed to score six runs and loaded the bases in the sixth inning and had runners on second and third in the top of the seventh before Nico Pike entered the game and struck out the side to preserve an 11-6 victory.
“We found out you can't let up in a game, even if you have a big lead early in the game,” said Pike, who had runners on second and third when he fanned Neil Quinn for his third strikeout of the inning and the final out of the game.
“I really enjoy my closer role. When we had the 8-0 lead in the first and a 9-0 lead in the second I didn't think the team would need me today. But I am always ready.”
The Indians (9-6) needed just two hits to score the eight runs in the first as St. Pius starter Caleb Murphy hit a batter, issued two walks and was the victim of an error in a sloppy first inning.
Sutton, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the game, ended Murphy's afternoon when he hit a long home run to drive in the seventh and eighth runs of the inning.
Jackson Cook then came into the game, recorded the final out, and gave St. Pius some stability on the mound.
“Give them a lot of credit,” Fort Osage coach Chris Walker said of the Warriors. “They could have laid down and given up after that first inning and they didn't. That team has a lot of fight, and they impressed me.
“A play here or there and it could have been a lot closer game – or, a play here or there our way and we could have been home 45 minutes ago.”
The 2-hour, 45-minute game was part of the Northland Tournament, which has been played at a variety of sites. Fort Osage, which improved to 3-0 in the tourney, earned a berth in Friday’s semifinals against an opponent to be determined.
“This was a crazy game,” said Sutton, who scored two runs and drove home two runs in the first inning. “With the wind blowing like it was today, anything can happen. I don't know if you noticed, but most of our guys were wearing glasses – and that's to keep the dirt and dust out of our eyes.
“I wear contacts, and days like this can be tough. Give St. Pius a lot of credit. We scored a lot of runs early in the game and they still made it a ballgame. And then Nico came on and did a great job in the seventh.
“He's been a great closer this season.”
Fort Osage starter Payton Toliver allowed six runs in 5 2/3 innings for the Indians. He and his brother, catcher Ryan Toliver, hooked up on a big play in the third when Ryan chased down a wild pitch and nailed the runner from third who was trying to score. Payton applied the tag at the plate.
Hayden Baumgartner cleared the bases in the bottom of the first with a bases-loaded triple and added a sacrifice fly in the second and a double in the fifth.