On the strength of prolific offense, stout pitching and tight defense, the Houston High School baseball team won the Plato Spring Tournament last weekend.
The Diamond Tigers had little trouble dispatching all three opponents in the round robin event, downing host Plato 12-2 on Friday and then returning Saturday to rout Newburg 22-1 and blank Cabool 8-0.
“We’re hitting the ball better,” said HHS head coach Brent Hall, “our pitchers are doing what they have been doing and we’re playing a lot cleaner in the field. Things are looking better.”
The Tigers scored in all 5 innings of the run-rule-shortened contest against Plato, getting a run in the first frame, putting up 2 in the second and then adding 3 more in the third, fourth and fifth.
Meanwhile, the Eagles got a run in the third and another in the fourth.
Houston racked up 14 hits in the contest. Senior Wiley Sisco had a career day at the plate, going 4-for-4 with 2 doubles, 4 RBIs and a run scored.
Junior shortstop Garyn Hall went 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and 2 runs, while junior first baseman Colton Stewart went 2-for-2 with a double, 2 walks, 2 RBIs and a run scored.
Junior Danny Venable went the distance on the mound for the Tigers, allowing only 2 hits and 1 earned run while striking out 7 and walking 4.
Houston ran away early in the contest with Newburg, scoring 9 runs in the top of the first inning before adding 7 in the second frame and 6 in the third.
The overmatched Wolves managed to get on the board with an unearned run in the bottom of the third.
The Tigers batted around in the first inning on the way to recording 16 hits and 8 walks in the 3-inning run-rule-shortened game.
Sophomore Stone Jackson had another big outing with the bat, going 3-for-3 with a double, 3 RBIs and 2 runs, while Hall went 2-for-3 with 3 RBIs and 2 runs.
Freshman Shaun Buck got the start on the mound for Houston and went 2 innings, allowing no hits and no runs while fanning 6 and walking 2. Jackson pitched the third frame and allowed 1 hit and no earned runs.
Coach Hall used the situation to give JV players some valuable experience, and several got involved in the offensive parade as the Tigers batted around again in the third inning.
Sophomore Sheldon Starr led the way, smacking 2 doubles in 2 at-bats in the frame, driving in 2 runs and scoring 1. Sophomore Gage Yardley launched a long, high RBI double to left that would likely have left the park if not for the windy conditions.
Against Cabool, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Jackson got aboard with a 2-out single and took second on an error, and then slid safely into home plate on a single to right field by junior third baseman Casey Merckling.
Houston scored another run in the second inning when sophomore Wyatt Hughes led off with a bloop double to left and crossed the plate on a fielder’s choice a few batters later.
The Tigers then increased their advantage to 6-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The decisive rally began when Hall reached base with a walk, stole second and scored on a triple to center by junior Ryan Wolfe, who then scored on a long double to left by Jackson. Houston then scored 2 more runs on an error on a pop fly to short.
The Tigers got a couple of insurance runs in the sixth inning, scoring once on a sacrifice fly by Wolfe and again on a ground-out by Jackson.
Jackson and Venable had 2 hits apiece in the win, while Jackson and Wolfe each drove in 2 runs.
Hughes tossed a masterful complete game on the mound, allowing only 2 hits while striking out 14 Bulldogs and walking only 1.
“He’s really come along,” Coach Hall said. “Of course, we saw that at the end of last year, and he’s just picked up where he left off.”
Garyn Hall swiped 8 bases in the tournament (3 against Plato, 4 against Newburg and 1 against Cabool) to raise his season total to 27. He’s on a pace to easily break his own single-season stolen bases school record of 33 that he set last season.
GOOD START IN SCA PLAY
Last Thursday, the Tigers won 12-0 at Thayer in their first South Central Association conference game of the season.
Houston scored once in the first inning and took a commanding 6-0 lead with 5 runs on only 1 hit in the fourth.
The Tigers had 11 hits in the game. Merckling had a huge day at the plate, going 3-for-5 with a triple, a double and 2 RBIs, while Jackson went 2-for-5 with a triple, 3 RBIs and a run scored.
Garyn Hall started on the mound and gave up only 3 hits in 6 innings, while striking out 13 and not issuing a base on balls. Sophomore Aiden Kelly worked the seventh frame and didn’t allow a hit while fanning 2 and walking 1.
In their 4 games played last week, the Tigers offense had 49 hits and outscored the opposition 54-3.
“The numbers indicate how our offense is doing,” Coach Hall said. “One of the biggest things is we’re cutting down on our strikeouts and putting the ball in play more. That gives you more opportunities to get hits and for the other team to make more mistakes, and it allows you to score more runs.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ defense committed only 4 errors during the stretch.
“That’s what we have to do,” Coach Hall said. “During that stretch, our pitchers had a lot more strikeouts, so there were probably fewer opportunities for errors. But still, when the ball was put in play during that stretch, we fielded it pretty well.”
This week, the Tigers (10-3 through last Saturday) play SCA contests Thursday at Cabool and Friday at home against Liberty. The Friday game is set to begin at noon.
“We’re heading into some of the toughest part of our schedule,” Coach Hall said. “We’re pretty happy with the way we’re playing right now, and we’ll see if we can keep it going against some stiffer competition.”