A couple of costly mistakes and a lack of timely hitting led to the first loss for the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports Athletics in the 26th-annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational at Hidden Valley Park.
Two unearned runs and missed scoring opportunities by the A’s helped a strong Lincoln (Neb.) Union Bank team claim a 4-3 National League Green Division victory Thursday night. Earlier in the day, the A’s beat St. Charles Post 312 8-3 at Blue Springs High School.
“I don’t like .500, not in this tournament,” said A's manager Mike Rooney, whose team earned an 8-3 victory earlier in the afternoon. “This team won their class in the Nebraska high school state championship series, and we knew it would be tough.
“We just made way too many mistakes – and you know how they say baseball is a game of inches? All the inches went Union Bank’s way. And I’m not taking a thing away from them. They got the big hits when they needed them, but they got some breaks and we didn’t get many.”
An error and wild pitch followed by Alex Utrup’s RBI single gave Union Bank a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.
Utrup stole second and went to third on a sacrifice bunt, with Brandon Utrup reaching first on another infield error. Both runners scored on Sam Donlan’s single that hit the lip of the infield grass and bounced into right field.
But the A’s found a creative way to come back and knot the score in the top of the fifth as Brandon Bennefield, Luke Miller and Nate Carlton singled off Union Bank starter Ryne Kortum to load the bases.
Brandon Bennefeld scored on a wild pitch. Kortum then uncorked his second wild pitch, allowing Miller’s courtesy runner Aaron Bennefeld to score, and Carlton came around and tied the game when the throw to Kortum at home plate got away from the pitcher.
“That was an unusual way to score three runs,” Rooney said, managing a wry smile. “We could have made it a lot easier on ourselves if we could have gotten a couple of more hits in the first four innings.”
In four of the first five innings, the A’s had their leadoff hitter reach first base. The one inning the leadoff hitter made an out, the second hitter reached first.
“You can’t waste that many scoring opportunities against a team like Union,” Rooney said. “We have to come back tomorrow at 2 o’clock (vs. Jefferson City Post 5 at Blue Springs High School) and get a win. We’ll see what this team is made of.
“There are two ways to respond after a loss like this, and I hope they respond the right way. I want them to come back with a lot of fire and find a way to win that game tomorrow afternoon.”
After watching its lead slip away in sloppy fashion, Union Bank collected a double by Donlan and a go-ahead RBI by Nolan Hakel in the bottom of the fifth inning to claim the important Green Division victory.
“You hate to lose a game like this,” said starting pitcher Corbin Hare, who allowed just two earned runs and struck out three batters.
“Union might be the best team we face in the tournament. Tomorrow, we need to win against Jeff City. It’s a must-win, and we always seem to respond to situations like that. We came so close to winning this game, but you have to give them credit. They just played a better game than we did tonight.”
Dillon Jackson pitched a complete game in the win over St. Charles, scattering eight hits and two walks against two strikeouts. David Stober batted 3 for 4 with an RBI, Jeremy Lufft clubbed a home run and double for three RBIs, Hare had two hits and an RBI and Ramon Rivera added a double and two RBIs.