St. Helens baseball leads early, then falters against tough Hillsboro
There's often a fine line between winning and losing.
Despite a final score that suggested a lopsided affair, it was really a couple plays, a couple more missed opportunities and one really big inning that lifted the Hillsboro baseball team over St. Helens on Wednesday at Ad Rutschman Field.
The Spartans used six hits, three walks and three Lion errors to score eight runs and erase a two-run fourth inning deficit to defeat visiting St. Helens 14-3 and stay within a game of first-place Sandy with just four games remaining in the Northwest Oregon Conference season.
"It all just kind of unraveled for us in the fourth," said St. Helens coach Jeff Timmons. "One error turned into to two, two turned into three, and we didn't find a way to right the ship. We tip our caps to Hillsboro and we look forward to our next game."
After scoring just once over the game's first three innings, Hillsboro simply found a groove in the first half of the fourth, seemingly solving the puzzle that was Lion starter Drew Sullivan.
"I liked where we were pregame, but their pitcher stifled us," said Hillsboro coach Bob Berent. "He did a nice job of locating and getting our guys in strike situations. We had to find some energy and some things started to go our way, then the second time through the lineup, we started to figure some things out."
In all, Hillsboro tallied 12 hits and were led by a Curran Mitzel, Josh O'Neal and Kane Kiaunis, who combined for six hits. Kiaunis, a sophomore infielder, finished 2 for 5 with two singles and three RBIs.
WIth the loss, St. Helens' fourth straight, the Lions fell to 2-11 in NWOC play and 3-16 overall. Hillsboro, meanwhile, won for a fifth straight time and improved to 11-2 in league and 11-11 overall.
Following two scoreless innings, St. Helens got things going in the third when Justin Olson led-off with a walk and moved to second on a Chris Beatty sacrifice bunt. Jacob Klein followed with a single to center to put runners on the corners, then a Joe Rea triple scored two runs and David Parks added a single to center for a 3-0 lead.
Hillsboro responded in its half of the third, getting a run on a Collin Turnbaugh double to left-center that scored Clayton Danielowicz. But Sullivan prevented more damage by pitching out of a bases-loaded jam by getting Kiaunis to hit into an inning-ending double play that left the Lions leading 3-1.
Then came the fourth.
Sullivan was forced from the game by a blister on his throwing hand and Hillsboro wasted little time jumping on reliever Joey Binam. O'Neal singled to start the inning, Myles Littlejohn walked, then after a Tommy Wolfe bunt single loaded the bases, another walk, a single by Danielowicz and a Turnbaugh sacrifice fly made it 6-3 for the Spartans and the rout was on. Mitzel singled, and after consecutive Lion errors allowed two more runs to score, O'Neal doubled for his second hit of the inning and Hillsboro's lead ballooned to 9-3 before the side was finally retired.
Timmons credited Hillsboro for rallying in the fourth, but at the same time lamented having to take Sullivan from the game so early in a contest in which he was dealing.
"It was rough for us to have to go to the bullpen that early," said Timmons. "Then we just couldn't find the zone, we fell behind batters and they did a good job of putting the bat on the ball."
The Spartans tacked on three more in the fifth and two in the sixth before Hillsboro reliever Daniel Kitchens put St. Helens down in order in the seventh. Despite the score, Berent was quick to credit the Lions after the game.
"They were good and they're young, so they've got a nice future," said the Hillsboro coach. "Obviously, we had an inning where things became contagious, but that happens sometimes."
Timmons pointed to his team's youth and a lack of leadership as key components to the mistakes that led to their demise, but at the same time, understood that those mistakes aid the growing process and will help the Lions going forward.
"We've got 39 kids out for baseball this year and 29 of them are freshmen and sophomores, so we're looking at it big picture," Timmons said. "We'll just keep working hard and hope we do our thing against our remaining schedule, and hopefully, get a chance to go to the eastside of the state and play a play-in game."
St. Helens was led by Rea who finished 2 for 3 with a triple, single and two RBIs.
Next up, the Lions play at Parkrose at 5 p.m. Friday and host Parkrose at 5 p.m. Tuesday.