Fresh off of a North Central Missouri Conference doubleheader at Kirksville on Wednesday in which plenty of runs were scored, but victory proved just a little too elusive, the Mexico varsity baseball team tried to get back on track on Thursday with a non-league game at Centralia.
The Panthers had a trick up their sleeve that would have been rather hard to scout for, though, because pitcher Gus Stidham was making just his second appearance and first start of the season based on the fact he's a three-sport athlete and head coach Mike Rodgers wanted to be sure he was well rested. Fortunately for Centralia, he was, and once Mexico took an early 2-1 lead, that's how the game would stay until the bottom of the fifth inning when the Panthers finally tied things at 2-2.
When the bottom of the sixth came around and the score was still deadlocked at 2-2, it was far from easy, but Centralia did manage to keep the momentum going when it needed it most and score two more runs. Gus Stidham then clocked three more outs to help his team earn this 4-2 home victory over the Bulldogs.
"Our guys stepped up when they needed to and put the ball in play and executed. We had a lot of bunts and steals. That's a lot of pressure on a kid to get the bunt down when everybody knows your bunting," said Rodgers. "Gus Stidham did an awesome job. He was getting ahead in the count on a lot of the hitters. When the game was close it didn't phase him. The weather also helped. We haven't had many days like this."
In that final at-bat for Centralia its rally began with Kaiden Davenport reaching base on an error and then moving to second on a single by Evan Stidham. While Quentin Foster did hit a fly ball to centerfield for the first out, when Jared Holiman stepped up for the next at-bat, Davenport and Evan Stidham pulled a double steal, and when the throw down the third base line went into left field, that put the Panthers up 3-2 with a runner on third.
Foster then hit a deep fly ball to right to bring home Evan Stidham to make it a two-run affair before Dawson Kirtley grounded out to the shortstop for the final out of the inning.
"When we got the lead, we weren't able to build on that lead. Anytime your in a close contest like this and you don't find a way to get some runs then it creates an opportunity," said Mexico coach Keith Louder. "We had that happen to us late. We didn't find a way to get things done early. This was Quinton Baumgartner's first start of the year and he gave us exactly what we were looking for. We're in a tight stretch of games and he kept us in this one. Really pleased with his effort on the mound."
As for Mexico's last stand, once Marquis Smith grounded out to second base, Dalyn Feigenspan was hit by a pitch. When Zach Mueller hit a ground ball to the third base, that allowed the tying run to move up to second base. That put everyhting on the shoulders of freshman Tyler Prince, and while he made a solid connection with the ball, once the right fielder pulled it, that was the end of the game.
Centralia's tying run in the fifth was the one that truly turned the tide after Mexico had been in the lead for much of the game and started with Holiman getting hit by a pitch. Kirtley then went to sacrifice bunt him to second, but managed to stay alive on an error. Will Rolfson's ground ball to first base then advanced the duo one base each, as did Caden Van Skike's fly ball to right field as the next man up, the only difference being this one drove Holiman across home plate.