Just a day after Oak Park handed Staley its first Suburban Middle Seven loss, putting Fort Osage’s baseball team in a tie atop the conference standings, the Northmen traveled to Fort Osage and threatened to knock the Indians back down a rung as well.
But the home team plated four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and maintained its share of the top spot with a 6-4 win Wednesday, setting up a winner-take-all on Monday.
“It really didn’t change a whole lot,” Fort Osage coach Chris Walker said after his team improved to 16-7 overall and 10-1 in the Middle Seven. “We still need to go to Staley Monday and win, but it gives us a little bit of room.”
If Fort Osage felt any sense of urgency, it didn’t hamper the players’ mindset at the plate.
“We always preach it, but this is the first time we really saw a good approach at the plate,” Walker said of his lineup. “We were patient and waited for our pitch. The first three innings I felt good with how we were doing – we were just hitting the ball right at them.”
Oak Park (7-16) starter Nick Vanbeeber pitched three shutout innings, and the Indians trailed 3-0 before plating two runs in the fourth. Trevor Jeffries and Ryan Toliver started the inning with singles, and the runs came home on a one-out balk by reliever Randy Link and Hayden Baumgartner’s sacrifice fly.
The Northmen made it 4-2 in the top of the fifth thanks to a botched two-out grounder with the bases loaded. Another reliever, Alex Marx, got a pop-up and fielder’s choice grounder to strand a pair of Indians in the bottom half.
But in the sixth Marx walked Toliver on four pitches. Andru Baxley then crushed an RBI triple to center and scored on Baumgartner’s game-tying single, and Aron Greer legged out a bunt single.
“It was 2-0; I was just waiting for my pitch and got it,” Baxley said. “Everyone was confident in their swings today; they just weren’t falling.”
Trevor Kirkman relieved Marx, but Payton Toliver bounced a one-out single through the left side to score the go-ahead run, and Chad Sutton’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded provided some insurance.
Sutton, a senior infielder, made his first varsity start on the mound and yielded three runs in the third, with Evan Wilson (triple), David Paffenroth (double) and Darrin Head lashing run-scoring hits.
Walker praised Sutton’s effort on the mound, as well as reliever Payton Toliver.
“With all these games butted up against each other, I wanted to put him out there and see what we could get,” Walker said of Sutton.
Payton, senior catcher Ryan’s younger brother, got his first win after allowing just one hit and one walk in four innings.
“It’s an awesome thing,” Payton said of forming a battery with his brother. “He knows the game as well as anyone on the field. Him calling games, it’s a blessing.”
Payton certainly doesn’t shake off his catcher’s signs.
“I listen to him,” he said.