The Rolla baseball team finally hit the diamond for the first time with a doubleheader in Columbia against Rock Bridge and Grain Valley on Saturday, Mar. 16. After not being able to practice on their own field due to poor weather, the Bulldogs struggled defensively on their way to an 11-3 loss to Rock Bridge and a 15-5 loss to Grain Valley.
Rolla got off to a rough start on Saturday against Rock Bridge, as the Bruins struck fast for three runs before the Bulldogs recorded an out. Rock Bridge loaded the bases right out of the gate on an error, a bloop hit and a walk, before a double brought all three runners home. After that, Treyton Ruth settled in and had a strong performance. Ruth only allowed four hits after allowing those three runs, only one of which was earned, and pitched a total of five innings. The Bulldog bats then gave him a break in the second. Ethan Skyles put Rolla on the board with an RBI ground out, before an RBI single from Wyatt Sowers. In the fourth, the Bulldogs managed to tie the game on another RBI single from Skyles.
The Bulldogs had a chance to take the lead in both the fifth and the sixth, as they led off each inning with a base runner, but they couldn't convert on either of those opportunities. Ruth turned the game over to the bullpen in the bottom of the sixth. That's where the wheels fell off. Skyles and Gus Gremp combined to pitch one inning, allowing eight runs in the process. Both pitchers struggled with control as Gremp walked four batters and Skyles walked two in the inning. The Bulldogs were shutout in the seventh to end the game with an 11-3 loss.
Offensively, Rolla had four hits from Sowers, Skyles, Luke Seest and Blayne Yarger.
While Rolla committed three errors in the opening game, the defensive problems really popped up in the second game. Grain Valley struck first in the second inning, scoring three runs on errors in the inning. Rolla bounced back with three runs of their own in the top of the third. The Bulldogs had two outs and Yarger at the plate, when Grain Valley elected to intentionally walk Rolla's top hitter. That's when Parker Yoakum stepped up and roped a bases clearing double to tie the game at three.
Unfortunately, that tie was short-lived, as Grain Valley punched back with another four runs. Yarger had the start for Rolla and allowed those seven runs. He struggled with control in his first game of the season, walking six, while striking out four before being relieved with an out remaining in the third. Rolla was able to get out of the inning before taking any more damage, but Grain Valley exploded for another six runs in the fourth to put the game away. Rolla scored two more runs in the fifth, before Grain Valley tacked on another pair of runs in the sixth to finish off the mercy rule with 15-5.
Offensively, Yoakum led Rolla with three RBI, going 1-2 in the process. Collin Woods was 1-3 with an RBI and a run scored. Ethan Stephenson had a walk and a hit, scoring twice along the way. Yarger was 1-2 with a run scored and a walk. On the mound Eric Henson allowed five runs in an inning of work. Sowers allowed two runs on no hits a walk and four strikeouts in 1.2 innings of work. Defensively, Rolla committed seven errors in the loss.
After missing so much valuable practice time on their field, defensive issues are hardly a surprise for head coach Kenny Hohe. He's more focused on his young team having the chance to hit the field for the first time.
"It's funny, during the Rock Bridge game, I was talking to their coach afterwards and he said 'you're gonna be alright maybe later on in the season. You guys are pretty young, if you can clean up some of those defensive mistakes.' And I said 'coach, that's our first day on an infield.' He said that made a lot of sense," recounted the Rolla head coach. "We haven't had that opportunity and it came back to bite us yesterday...we just struggled defensively yesterday."
Rolla is a very young team after last year's huge senior class, so coach Hohe isn't going to put too much stock in a couple of rough games after not being able to practice on their own field.
"I don't know that it gives a whole lot of insight, it just shows the lack of opportunity we've had to be outside. We graduated a ton of seniors, a ton of starters. We brought back one starting pitcher in Treyton and one starting position player in Blayne," said coach Hohe. "Just to have the opportunity to play, to see varsity caliber pitching, to see the importance of making the routine play. All of that stuff is going to sink in and I think we'll see some steady improvements throughout the season."
The varsity and JV teams will split up this week. The varsity will play in the Four Rivers Tournament, while the JV plays in the Stoutland Classic. The varsity will hopefully face St. Clair on the road on Monday, before hosting Owensville on Tuesday. Those games will be pending field conditions. Rolla will also play on Saturday, but the opponent and location have not been determined.