After starting the season with a win, the Houston High School baseball team ran into trouble late last week, dropping two games in the annual Houston Wood Bat Tournament at Tiger Field.
The Diamond Tigers fell 5-2 to county rival Licking in a 3 ½-hour, 9-inning marathon on Friday, and then were defeated by Mountain Grove on Saturday, 7-5.
The extra innings affair against Licking was made longer by a rare “sun delay,” as the head umpire stopped play for 22 minutes after determining that the vision of batters and catchers was dangerously impaired by bright sunlight to the west.
The score was tied at 1 apiece through 8 innings, but the Wildcats scored 4 runs in the top of the ninth on 2 hits, 4 walks and an error.
The Tigers made some noise with 2 outs in the bottom of the frame, loading the bases on three consecutive walks and then scoring on a base hit by sophomore right fielder Stone Jackson. But the rally ended and Licking got the win on a ground out.
Jackson had his first career 2-hit game, going 2-for-5 at the plate and driving in both of Houston’s runs.
Four Licking pitchers combined to limit Houston to 5 hits, while striking out 10 and issuing 8 walks. Meanwhile, three players pitched for the Tigers, combining to allow only 4 hits while fanning 8, but the Wildcats had plenty of base runners thanks to 10 walks.
Houston got on the board first in the contest with Mountain Grove, taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on an RBI double by junior second baseman Danny Venable.
After the Panthers evened the score in the top of the second inning, the Tigers went ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the frame on a single by junior shortstop Garyn Hall that brought home senior first baseman Colton Stewart, who had reached base with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore left fielder Aiden Kelly.
Mountain Grove pulled even again with a run in the top of the fourth inning, and then added 5 big runs in the fifth with a rally fueled by 4 hits, a hit batter and an error.
Houston scored once in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, but ultimately fell short.
Junior third baseman Casey Merckling had a big day at the plate for the Tigers, going 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and 2 RBIs. Jackson had another 2-hit game, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
Venable got the start on the mound for Houston and worked 4 innings, allowing 4 hits and only 1 earned run. Junior Ryan Wolfe threw in the fifth inning and Kelly worked the sixth and seventh. The trio combined to record 7 strikeouts and no walks.
Four Mountain Grove hurlers saw action in the game, allowing a total of 8 hits while striking out 11 and walking only 4.
OFFENSE COMES ALIVE
The Diamond Tigers traveled to Seymour on Monday and got back on track with a 10-5 victory.
Using aluminum bats, Houston had 9 hits and 9 RBIs in the game, while striking out 11 times and earning 10 walks.
The Tigers jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning with a rally featuring 5 singles and 3 walks, including RBI base hits by Merckling, Hughes and senior catcher Wiley Sisco.
Seymour responded with 3 runs in the bottom of the frame, but Houston added 3 in the top of the second inning and never looked back.
Venable went 2-for-2 at the plate with a double, a walk, 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored, while Merckling went 2-for-4 with an RBI and 2 runs. Hall went 1-for-1 (smacking a double in the seventh inning), but also earned 4 walks, drove in 3 runs and scored 2. He also swiped another 2 bases to raise his stolen bases total to 7 on the season.
Hall was also back on the mound for Houston and went the distance, allowing only 5 hits and no earned runs, while striking out 9 and issuing only 1 base on balls.
The Tigers’ offense helped overcome a tough day in the field, as the squad committed 5 errors.
Seymour came into the contest with a 2-0 record.
After four games, HHS head coach Brent Hall felt like his team’s batters weren’t making enough contact and fielders were making too many mistakes.
“We strike out too much,” Hall said. “There’s just too many swings and misses, and that needs to improve. And our defense has been a little shaky at times, and that also needs to improve.”
So far in 2022, pitching has been one of the Tigers’ strong points.
“It’s been pretty solid, as a whole,” Hall said.
Houston (2-2 through Monday) hosted Bradleyville on Tuesday and will play this weekend in a tournament at Alton. The Tigers begin South Central Association conference play next week with road games Monday at Mountain Grove and Thursday at Thayer.
Houston’s next home game is set for Monday, April 11, against Liberty.
“It’s early in the season,” Hall said, “and there are a lot of things we need to tighten up.”
To view a photo gallery from the Tigers’ game against Licking (with the option to purchase photos), click here.