By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
CLEVER, Mo. — The baseball tilt between the Strafford Indians (5-3) and the Clever Blue Jays (6-3) pitted two state-ranked teams against each other in rather cool, breezy conditions to open the month of April Monday evening at Clever High School.
Strafford entered the game ranked second in the Class 3 while Clever sits at eighth.
Strafford has been searching for an increase in offense of late.
And that offense was found in an 8-1 win over Clever.
Indians starting senior hurler Dillon Turner received all the run support he needed in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, when his Indians plated all eight runs.
Turner went 5 1/3 innings on the mound, striking out 12 and allowing two hits and one earned run.
“Dillon threw really well today,” Strafford head coach Shane Pierce said. “He has been good his two times out. He threw well against Nixa, and they had a big early inning. And then he threw well his second time out against Skyline with a similar pitching performance.”
Turner is Pierce’s No. 2 pitcher in the rotation, and the senior continues to impress.
“He has been really good every time out. I am proud of the way he has continued to do well,” added Pierce.
It’s commonplace for a hurler to mix speeds and location, sure.
After all, that’s pitching 101.
But Turner took it one step further — mixing up his two-seam as he continually climbed the ladder — prior to pounding down and away to ring up the Blue Jays.
But it was the curveball that kept the Jays offering that caught Pierce’s attention.
“He has really gotten better at throwing his off-speed … his curveball for a strike,” Pierce said. “That is something that, for a youngster, he is just now learning how to pitch, and it is fun to watch.”
Offensively, the Indians scored their first run on a Turner RBI single in the third.
Strafford added another pair of runs one inning later when Tony Caldwell connected for the two-run triple.
The damage continued in the fifth when Caleb Semple plated two runs with his single, followed by Hunter Langston’s fielder’s choice.
A Clever error — one of five on the night — plated the Indians’ seventh run on the night.
Strafford closed out their scoring after a delayed steal plated its final run.
While the Indians manufactured enough offense, Pierce acknowledged they were the beneficiary of the aforementioned five Blue Jays errors — which prolonged the innings throughout the tilt — allowing for second-chance opportunities.
“To be honest, our offense is struggling right now. Some of it is sputtering right now,” Pierce said. “Offense is confidence, and right now, our confidence isn’t really high, but I thought we did a good job of executing tonight; just taking advantage of their mistakes.”
For Clever, the lumps will come — as head coach Justin Snider is working with a young group this spring — playing five, sometimes seven sophomores.
Starting senior hurler Hunter Eutlser allowed five runs in four innings of work, and the offense didn’t produce its first hit and eventual run until the sixth inning.
“I feel bad because I thought Hunter threw well,” Snider said of his hurler, who struck out three.
Jake Twigg singled to open the sixth inning, then Quinn Gundelfinger singled, Trace Comer then drew the base-on-balls, prior to Logan Peebles’ RBI single.
“We made crucial errors. They are really, really good,” Snider said. “In any lineup, you can’t let the bottom of the order hurt you. And today, I think the most telling statistic is six through nine in their order was on base eight times by walk or errors, and that meant the order rolled back over to the top. When you give them free passes, that is what happens.”
The silver lining for Snider and his Jays is this week’s hectic schedule: as they will hit the field Tuesday, Wednesday, and twice on Saturday.
Said Snider: “The good thing is they are 15- and 16-years-old. It is correctable. There is not a lot of time to dwell on it. They are going to have to move on pretty quickly. It can be a learning experience for them.”