Charleston Fighting Squirrels baseball blanks Tropics, keeps rolling in Senior Babe Ruth

Thursday, June 15, 2017
The Charleston Fighting Squirrels' Garrison Keene delivers a pitch to a Southeast Tropics batter during the first inning Thursday in Charleston, Missouri. The Squirrels won 6-0.
Fred Lynch

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- It's tough to beat a team with these kind of weapons in the holster.

A year after carrying a big chunk of the pitching load for the Charleston Fighting Squirrels, Garrison Keene and Ty Householder have barely been used on the mound this summer. But when the Squirrels broke them out in the opener of a doubleheader Thursday night, the pair was lights out.

Keene went five innings in his first start of the season, allowing just two hits, and Householder threw for the first time this summer, offering up two clean innings in relief as Charleston shut down and shut out the Southeast Tropics 6-0 in Senior Babe Ruth baseball action at Hillhouse Park.

Fighting Squirrels (16-1) coach Michael Minner said Keene hasn't thrown more than an inning or two in relief all season.

"Garrison's been one of our big arms last year," Minner said. "He went to Freed-Hardeman (University) and redshirted and probably didn't get as much work on the mound as he needed, so we tried to bring him back slowly. He probably could have gone out there and finished. We had him at about 88 pitches, and we needed to shut him down tonight. We need him to be able to bounce back, and of course, he catches, too.

Southeast Tropics Nick Stoelting hits a single against the Fighting Squirrels during the fifth inning of the first game Thursday, June 15, 2017 in Charleston, Missouri.
Fred Lynch

"It was good to get Ty in there for some time. Ty hasn't thrown. You know, we've played 16 games, and the two guys who were horses for us on the mound last year are just getting their first start and their first innings on the mound. That speaks worlds about the staff that we've put together."

Keene's final line was two hits in five shutout innings with two strikeouts and three walks. His freewheeling, loopy pitching delivery -- hearkening back to an older era of baseball -- seemed to keep the Tropics (3-9) on their heels, though coach Dustin Schwartz wasn't displeased with his team's approach at the plate.

"We talked about [Keene's delivery] and said, 'Don't let it bother you,'" Schwartz said. "I think it's just something high school guys aren't used to, so I think it bothered them a little. But we got over it. I thought they put together a lot of quality at-bats against him, so I don't think it bothered them too much."

But that didn't help Southeast generate much offense. The visitors managed a Matt Finley hit in the second inning and a Nick Stoelting single in the fifth, but those were the only hits of the day.

Householder entered to start the sixth inning and didn't allow a base runner, striking out three in two innings.

Charleston was on the front foot from the start, as Ronin Rice picked up a one-out single in the bottom of the first inning, moved to second on a walk to Braden Cox and then scored on a base hit by Wyatt Pratt. A sacrifice fly from Jason Jarrell made it 2-0 after one inning.

With the way the hosts were tossing the ball on the mound, that's all they needed.

"Offensively we're doing some good things," Minner said. "The key for us right now is that we're not striking out. We're forcing teams to make plays, you know. When you're dealing with kids, errors are part of the game with young guys. So the more we can put it in play, the better chance we give ourselves to be good offensively. Through 16 games, that's one of the biggest things that separates this team from others I've coached -- up and down the lineup, we put it in play. ... We're getting three, four, five, six runs (a game).

"Our pitchers, man, we're pumping strikes and our defense is really, really solid. Kind of our thing is we've talked about three or four runs is going to give us a chance to win. If we can score three or four, our pitchers, it takes a little pressure off, and we feel like we'll be able to hold teams to that."

The Fighting Squirrels made it 3-0 in the second inning on a Dakota Talley RBI single and led 4-0 after Bobby Wright opened the fourth inning with a single and later scored on a one-out base hit by Blake Simmons.

The Tropics had an opportunity to cut into that deficit in the top of the fifth inning, as Dillon Mize drew a two-out walk and Nick Stoelting put two runners on with a single to right field.

But Keene got his final out of the day by inducing a pop fly to the shortstop off the bat of Lane Crowley.

Instead of grabbing momentum, Southeast was left empty handed and then watched the home side tack on two more runs in the bottom of the fifth to secure a 6-0 advantage.

"Just getting on the board in that inning would have been huge -- it changes momentum completely in your direction," Schwartz said. "... You come out maybe a different team the next inning. It's something you've got to rebound from when you don't get it."

Crowley took the pitching loss for the Tropics, giving up six runs on eight hits in six innings of work. He struck out one and walked four.

The Charleston Fighting Squirrels' Ty Householder pitches to a Southeast Tropics batter during the sixth inning.

"Lane did great. A few more things go his way, a couple balls hang up in left field, and he probably gives up three runs all game," Schwartz said. "He did great and pitched his butt off for us."

Wyatt Pratt was 2-for-3 with an RBI for Charleston, while Rice also went 2-for-3 and scored a run.

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Squirrels defeated the Tropics 10-0.

Rolling along

The Fighting Squirrels have been a buzz saw through the first stretch of the season, dropping only one of their first 17 games.

That hasn't moved Minner's eyes off the prize, though.

"To start off 15-1, it's not a prototypical team we have," Minner said. "You know, we want to be ready for the postseason. So we're still focusing on that, but right now we've had a lot of success so it's been a lot of fun. I can't say enough about these guys. Man, they're asking baseball questions in the dugout, and they want to find ways to manipulate the system to make themselves better. And it's been a really, really, really great start to the summer.

"I really enjoy being in the dugout with these guys, we hope that continues, and we'll continue to try to get better."

The coach hopes that upcoming tournaments in Festus, Missouri, and Florida will challenge his squad and offer reminders that close games are where championships are won. He knows that from past experience and is preaching it to his players constantly.

"We make sure that hopefully by the end of the year these guys will know the baseball thing to do and make the plays in the crucial situations," Minner said. "Ultimately it always comes down to the end of the year, and you're playing in these tournaments, you can have a bad day and get beat. So kids have to understand that, so we try to maintain our focus and get these guys understanding that every pitch is important.

"The tough thing right now is we still play everybody. Whenever we get to the postseason, there's going to be some good guys sitting on the bench on this team. That's very intriguing. It doesn't always happen like that. This year there's going to be some guys who probably have some gaudy numbers and really good summers that probably don't fit. So for us, it's about learning the game together and getting everyone to buy in to what we're selling, so we make sure when it comes to that point that we're still all about the team."

And, of course, the important things in baseball.

"It's been really, really fun," Minner said. "Our focus is just trying to pick out the best uniform we can and make sure we look damn good."


WP -- Garrison Keene. LP -- Lane Crowley. Multiple hits -- Charleston: Ronin Rice 2-3, Wyatt Pratt 2-3.

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