Houston second baseman Trevor Merckling prepares to throw to first base after forcing out a Salem runner.

The Houston Tigers’ 2014 campaign began with a rout of the defending conference champions.

HHS scored nine times in the first inning of Monday’s season opener and cruised to a 16-4 five-inning victory against Salem in the annual Neal’s Sporting Goods Leadoff Classic.

The Tigers’ 16 runs were the program’s most since a 26-11 victory against Hartville in 2010.

“There are some things we did wrong, but you can’t ask for much better, especially when you score 16 times,” Tigers coach Brent Hall said.

Salem isn’t exactly the same team from a year ago with three starters serving suspensions for infractions at the end of last season. But the team is the reigning South Central Association champions nonetheless.

Hall, who said his team has struggled the past few years to put away teams, did so convincingly to open the season.

“They’ll be a lot better when we face them in the conference,” he said. “But I felt like we were the better team going in, and we took it to them. We were the aggressors.”

Junior Tanner Cantrell led the Tigers’ offense with three hits, four RBIs and three runs scored. Aaron Cantrell drove home three runs and Kolby Walker scored three times.

Coulter gave up two hits and one runs in three innings in the victory. He struck out two and walked one. Nathan Poynter and Quinton Alston each pitched one inning in relief.

In Monday’s other tournament game, Mountain Grove snuck past Cuba 1-0. The Panthers and Houston play at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Salem and Cuba follow at 6 p.m.

The Tigers’ season opener was virtually over after one inning.

HHS (1-0) sent 13 batters to the plate and scored nine times in the bottom of the first to take a commanding lead it never relinquished. Tanner Cantrell delivered the biggest blow with a bases-clearing triple to cap the rally.

After Coulter and Walker walked, Tanner Cantrell pushed across the season’s first run with a sharp single to right field. Whitley Welch followed with a run-scoring double and Aaron Cantrell had a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.

Ethan Kelley walked with the bases loaded to plate another run and Coulter was hit by a pitch to bring home another. Two batters later, Cantrell drilled a line driver over right fielder Jake Plank to make it 9-0.

The Tigers took advantage of four walks, two errors and a hit batter in the frame. Six of the runs were unearned.

“I don’t know how many times last year teams would give us a gift and we didn’t follow through and make it hurt,” Hall said. “We did that all game long. When they made mistakes, we got hits and capitalized.”

Trevor Merckling walked and scored on a wild pitch in the second and after Salem scored its first run, Merckling grounded out to bring home Tanner Cantrell in the third to put the Tigers ahead 11-1.

Salem scored three times against Poynter in the top of the fourth, but Houston got them back – and more – with five runs in the bottom half of the inning. Aaron Cantrell capped the rally with a two-run single.

Alston worked around two walks in the top of the fifth as the game concluded via the mercy rule.

“It was nice to keep Devin’s pitch count down and let those other guys get their feet wet,” Hall said.

BOX SCORE

    1   2    3    4    5        R    H    E 
Salem       0      0      1      3      0      –      4      3      5   
Houston      9    1    1    5    x    –    16      8    1 

SALEM (ab-r-h-bi) – Gray cf 3-0-0-1. Ziske 2b 3-0-0-0. Conway lf 3-0-0-0. Cramer 1b 2-0-0-0. Plank rf 3-1-2-0. Dubois ss 1-1-0-0. Mackley 3b 1-0-0-0. McClain ph 1-2-0-0. Ragsdale c 0-0-0-0. Conaway p 1-0-1-0. Togals 18-4-3-2.

HOUSTON (ab-r-h-bi) – Coulter p 1-2-0-1. Poynter cf 0-1-0-0. Walker 1b 2-3-1-1. TCantrell 3b 3-3-3-4. WWelch dh 3-1-2-2. ACantrell cf 2-1-1-3. Merckling 2b 3-2-0-1. Alston lf 3-0-0-0. SWelch rf 2-1-0-0. Kelley ss 1-2-1-1. 

2B: Walker, WWelch, Kelley. 3B: TCantrell. SF: Mackley, WWelch, Cantrell. SAC: Alston. SB: Plank 2, Dubois, Cantrell. CS: Cantrell. 

Salem        IP      H      R      ER      BB      SO   
Conaway, L        1.2    3    10    4    8    0 
Ziske    2.1    5    6    2    1    0 
Houston    IP    H    R    ER    BB    SO 
Coulter, W   3    2    1    0    1    2 
Poynter    1    1    3    3    2    0 
Alston    1    0    0    0    2    0 

HBP: Conaway 3, Poynter.

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