ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Losing close games is still losing, but the competitive spirit of the Hillsboro American Legion Post 366 baseball team has risen to new heights in the past few weeks.
Post 366 lost all four of its games last week, but by a total margin of only seven runs.
Hillsboro dropped a pair of heart-breaking one-run games at Herington on Wednesday, 4-3 and 5-4, one day after losing a pair to Moundridge, 7-6 and 5-1.
Manager Lyman Adams was particularly proud of his team’s performance at Herington.
“We were short-handed, but I was very proud of the way they battled and the way they played ball,” he said. “For the most part, we played solid defense and had good pitching. We were on the edge and right there, but we just need to pick up the wins.”
In the opener, Dustin Burnett threw a stellar game for Post 366.
Hillsboro scored in its first at-bat. Alfonse Klenda reached on a fielder’s choice with two outs and consecutive walks to Troy Frick and Daniel Berg loaded the bases. Matt Brown was hit by a pitch to drive home Klenda and stake Hillsboro to a 1-0 lead.
Neither teams scored again until the bottom of the third, when Herington managed four runs on three singles, a hit batter and a two-run error.
Burnett kept Hillsboro close until he and his teammates generated more offense in the sixth.
Chad Hughbanks drew a one-out walk and scored on Burnett’s triple to the gap in right center to cut Herington’s lead to 4-2.
In the seventh, Frick reached on a fielder’s choice, Brett McIntosh walked and Brown reached on an error to load the bases with two outs.
Aaron Stepanek then rifled a single to left to score Frick and Post 366 was within a run at 4-3. But Hughbanks popped out to shortstop to end the game.
Burnett (0-1) took the loss. He allowed six hits in six innings, walked two and struck out two.
“We needed a timely hit and we just didn’t get it,” Adams said. “We didn’t lose because of a lack of effort.”
In Game 2, Stepanek drew a lead-off walk and eventually scored on a Clayton Garnica bunt to give Hillsboro a 1-0 lead.
Starting pitcher Justin Moore, nursing a tender ankle, encountered early trouble.
A fly ball that Berg lost in the sun turned into a lead-off double. Three walks later, Seth Jirak doubled and Herington led 3-1 after one inning.
Hillsboro got one run back in the second inning when Frick singled with two outs, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on an error.
In the bottom of the inning, Moore struck out the first batter, but walked the next two, prompting Adams to bring in Frick. The right-hander proceeded to pitch a gem for Hillsboro, escaping unscathed in the inning-and well beyond it.
Hillsboro tied the game at 3-3 in the third when Stepanek led off with a single, stole second and scored on a Burnett single.
Herington answered with a run in the bottom half of the inning without a base hit. Frick hit the lead-off hitter, who eventually scored on a sacrifice bunt.
In the top of the fifth, Hillsboro tied the game again when Hughbanks tripled with one out and scored on a sacrifice fly by Burnett.
Neither team scored again until the bottom of the seventh, when Lady Luck frowned on Hillsboro.
Frick struck out the first two hitters of the inning, then walked the next two.
Frick seemingly was out of the inning when he induced the next hitter to ground to short, but a wicked hop ricocheted the ball off Hughbanks’s face, allowing the winning run to slide safely across home plate in a close play.
“There weren’t any bad bounces the entire night, and in the last game, when it looked like a routine grounder, it just took off,” Adams said.
Frick (0-2) was the hard-luck loser, allowing only three hits while striking out six in six innings.
“Both of our pitchers did a great job,” Adams said. “They had times when they could have folded and didn’t.
“We’re getting to where we want to be at the end of the year,” Adams said. “We could be a dangerous team. Record-wise, we aren’t an impressive team. But if we get solid pitching and get some hits, I like our chances.”
With the losses, Hillsboro concluded the regular season at 5-16.
Moundridge-On Tuesday, Post 366 dropped a pair of tough decisions to Moundridge, 7-6 and 5-1, at Memorial Field.
After starting pitcher Chad Hughbanks worked a scoreless first inning, Hillsboro responded with a two-out four-run burst in the home half of the first.
Aaron Burnett started the rally with a single to right center, and Kyle Jilka followed suit with another single.
After an errant pickoff attempt put runners on second and third, Tyler Goldsby drove the first pitch into center field to drive home both runners. Goldsby took second on the play at the plate.
Jared Fish followed with a double that chased home Goldsby before scoring himself on a bloop single by Clayton Garnica.
Hillsboro stretched its lead to 5-0 with a run in the second inning.
After Aaron Stepanek was hit by a pitch, Hughbanks reached on a fielder’s choice that erased Stepanek. Burnett then blasted a double off the fence in right-center field fence, scoring Hughbanks.
Moundridge rallied in the third inning for a pair of runs off Hughbanks without the benefit of a base hit. Three walks combined with a hit batter and a ground out cut the lead to 5-2.
Hillsboro countered with a single run in the third when Goldsby walked and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
Moundridge cut the lead in half with a pair of runs in the fourth, once again on two walks, an error and no base hits.
Jared Fish replaced Hughbanks on the mound in the fourth inning, and kept the score at 6-4 until the top of the seventh.
That’s when Moundridge scored three times off Fish on a double, single, two walks and two errors.
Trailing 7-6 in Hillsboro’s last at-bat, Jilka was hit by a pitch and Goldsby walked. But Fish and Nuss flew out for the final two outs in the game.
Fish (1-1) took the loss for Hillsboro.
Michael Bookless started the second game against Moundridge’s Matt Thiessen, a pitcher for Fort Hays State.
Even so, Hillsboro jumped on top 1-0 in second inning when Dustin Burnett led off with a walk, stole second and scored on a Bookless base hit down the right-field line.
Bookless matched Thiessen pitch for pitch until trouble erupted in the top of the sixth.
A lead-off walk followed by a single and another walk loaded the bases with no outs.
Manager Lyman Adams replaced Bookless with Jilka, who immediately surrendered a run-scoring single.
With the bases still loaded and one out, Jilka fielded a ground ball and threw to first for the out, allowing Moundridge to take a 2-1 lead.
An infield single and a solid single to left chased home three more runs for a 5-1 Moundridge lead.
That was all Thiessen needed. The 6-foot, 2-inch flame-thrower recorded 12 strikeouts to claim the win. Bookless (1-4) was the loser, allowing only three hits in five innings.
With the losses, Hillsboro fell to 5-14 for the year.
Coming-Hillsboro opens zone play at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Ellsworth versus the Hesston/Ellsworth winner.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL