MEXICO — Centralia baseball was bumped up to Class 4 this season for the first time in school history.
But with a confident bunch of seniors who have been undefeated for nearly a month, the Panthers (4-1) may make some late-season noise nonetheless.
During a 14-6 road victory over fellow Class 4 program Mexico on Thursday evening, that confidence showed in all facets of the game. Centralia had 10 different players that managed to score, while its senior pitching duo of starter Will Rolfson and reliever Gus Stidham recorded double-digit strikeouts.
After taking the lead with a four-run second inning, the Panthers added on as the game went along, scoring at least two more runs in the next four consecutive innings.
When asked about the multiple strengths his team has, Centralia head coach Mike Rodgers jokingly gave a frank — but true — response.
“Well, heck,” Rodgers said, “if we’ve got good starting pitching, relief pitching and good hitting, we should be a pretty good team.”
It’s no secret that the Panthers can hit the ball well. Through five games in 2019, Centralia has knocked in an impressive average of 12.4 runs per game, with the Panthers having posted double-digit runs in three of those.
Perhaps more impressively, eight different Panther hitters batted in runs Thursday, showing that Centralia has power all throughout its lineup. Seniors Jared Holiman and Quentin Foster knocked in two each to lead the team.
“Oh, we hit,” Rodgers said with a laugh. “That’s the thing that we do well, we hit. We’ve got a bunch of confident seniors that kind of lead the whole team. They stay pretty even-keel and they’re confident hitting the ball. They see good pitching and it doesn’t bother them at all.”
On a night Rolfson thought that he should’ve pitched better — Rodgers attributed it to a long layoff and high pitch count — the starter did more than enough to keep the Mexico offense at bay.
He went five innings and struck out eight, allowing six runs but with only half of them earned. The Panthers’ offensive prowess never put Rolfson in danger of losing a lead, but a triple-digit pitch count, 101 to be exact, didn’t help. Rolfson gave reliever Stidham credit for keeping Centralia’s lead stable. Stidham struck out three in two innings and got out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning scot-free.
“We could’ve been better. I walked quite a few people, so that needs to be fixed,” Rolfson said. “Gus came in and threw some good innings. I’m pretty sure he went 1-2-3 one time in one inning. So that was pretty cool.”
Mexico, meanwhile, drops under .500 at 6-7 with the loss and is struggling with consistency, according to head coach Brandon Schafer. He said that his team needs to address things in practice before a stretch of conference games next week against Marshall, Hannibal and Kirksville.
Bulldogs senior first baseman Cody Rowe hit a home run in a four-run second inning, Mexico’s first homer of the season. But the Bulldogs were unable to maintain that type of offensive firepower the rest of the way like Centralia so effectively did.
Mexico's pitching struggled as Zach Watkins and Zachary Mueller were battered for a combined 12 hits on the mound, while control issues from both pitchers led to the Panthers drawing nine total walks. Four errors from the defense didn’t help Mexico’s comeback hopes, either.
“We need to be more consistent both ways,” Schafer said. “When we’re hitting, we’re not playing defense. When we’re playing defense and pitching, we’re not hitting. If we can do both, people better watch out.”
CENTRALIA 14, MEXICO 6
CENTRALIA (AB-R-H-RBI) – Holiman SS 5-1-1-2, E. Stidham 3B 5-1-2-1, Rolfson P 5-0-1-1, King C 4-0-0-1, Vanskike LF 4-2-2-1, G. Stidham 1B-P 4-2-1-1, Foster 2B 4-1-3-2, Wells CF 4-1-1-0, Schmidt RF 4-2-1-1, Mathews PR 0-2-0-0, Million PR 1-1-0-0, Brown C 1-0-0-0, Stone LF 1-0-0-0, Totals 42-14-12-10.
MEXICO (AB-R-H-RBI) – Worley 2B 4-1-2-0, Prince SS 4-1-0-0, Whalen 3B 4-1-1-2, Rowe 1B 4-1-2-2, Watkins P 2-1-0-0, Feigenspan RF 1-0-0-0, Dobyns LF 1-0-0-0, Playter DH 2-0-0-0, Bledsoe CF 3-0-0-0, Wilson C 1-0-0-0, Simms LF 2-1-1-0, Mueller P 2-0-0-0, Dukes OF 1-0-0-0, Haines OF 1-0-0-0, Fennewald OF 1-0-0-0, Belcher PR 0-0-0-0. Totals 33-6-6-4.
LOB: CHS 6, MHS 6. 2B: Foster (2), Vanskike, E. Stidham, Rolfson; Simms. HR: Rowe.