Small ball paid big dividends for Blue Springs Post 499 Fike Wednesday.
Sacrifice bunts – including a perfectly executed RBI suicide squeeze by leadoff man Zack Ehlen – led the 26th annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational host team to an opening 6-0 victory over the Independence VFW Post 1000 Bears Wednesday afternoon at Hidden Valley Park.
The combination of sterling defensive play and the two-hit pitching of starter Andrew Olsen helped manager Jim Moran’s squad get off to a solid start in the Legion summer classic.
“It’s a different game when you’re swinging wood bats,” said Moran, whose team led just 2-0 before a four-run outburst in the seventh inning. “You have to do the little things to win in this tournament, and our guys really executed today.
“Three of our first four sacrifice bunts led to our first three runs, and we finally put together some hits in the last inning. It was a good win. I’m proud of the guys.”
Olsen, who threw four-innings of a combined no-hitter against the Bears earlier in the week, threw 4 2/3 innings of no-hit ball Wednesday before J.T. Bodenhamer touched him for a bloop double in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The Bears’ Kyle Pleacher added a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“I didn’t care about the no-hitter,” said Olsen, who had four strikeouts and threw just 69 pitches. “All I care about is the win. We play so many games in such a short period of time I wanted to go all the way, and maybe I can come back (in the championship round) Sunday if we make it that far.”
Olsen didn’t blow the bats out of the Bears hands; he simply let his defense take care of business.
“I noticed that every time a ball was hit to Ehlen at short – with two out – that Andrew started jogging toward the dugout,” Moran said. “Now, that’s what I call confidence. Zack had a great game in the field and at the plate.”
Ehlen, who had six assists at shortstop, said he noticed Olsen’s confidence.
“He’d run over to the dugout, and I told him that I might make a mistake and he’d have to run back to the field,” Ehlen said. “And he said, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’ So I better make sure it doesn’t.”
Braden Younkin scored Fike’s first run when he singled in the top of the third. He was sacrificed to second by Tanner Lucas and scored on Nic Mertes’ RBI single.
Younkin then got hit by a pitch in the fifth, stole second and was sacrificed to third by Lucas. He scored when Ehlen got the bat on an Eli Henderson fastball, executing the suicide squeeze.
“It all worked to perfection,” Moran said. “Braden didn’t leave third too soon and Zack put down a nice bunt.”
When asked about the play, Ehlen just grinned.
“I just did what I was supposed to do,” Ehlen said. “If I thought too much about it I probably would have been nervous and not gotten the bunt down.”
Lucas laid down his third sacrifice bunt in the seventh. Blake Roberts opened with a single and Younkin followed with his second hit of the game. Lucas sacrificed each runner and Ehlen hit an RBI single, Cale Benson added a two-run double and Garrett Phillips singled home a run.
“It was a good, close game until the seventh,” said Bears manager Garrett Ogle, whose team was no-hit earlier in the day in an 11-0 loss to Westmoreland Post 186 of Manhattan, Kan. “I’m proud of the way the kids came back and fought hard in this game.
“Eli pitched a great game, we just couldn’t give him any support.”
Henderson matched Olsen nearly pitch for pitch for six innings.
“It would have been difficult to play again after the way we lost our first game,” Henderson said. “But we showed we’re a team. We care about each other, and even though we lost, I’m proud of the way we played. That’s a good Fike team, and we at least made it close until the last inning.”