Klein throws perfect game in Fighting Squirrels 11-0 win over the Stix, Howard collects three RBIs in win over Titans; Willingham tosses gem for Southeast Tropics

Charleston Fighting Squirrels Anthony Klein throws a pitch, against the Southern Illinois Stix in the COVID-19 Baseball Showcase, on Sunday, June 7, 2020, at Capaha Park, in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Alex Wallner/Standard Democrat

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — To say it was a strong out by Anthony Klein on the mound Sunday would be an understatement.

Klein was perfect for the Charleston Fighting Squirrels as they defeated the Southern Illinois Stix 11-0 in the championship game of the COVID-19 Baseball Showcase, at Capaha Park, in Cape Girardeau.

In his five innings of work, Klein’s perfect game consisted of seven strikeouts on 56 pitches. He threw 75 percent of his pitches for strikes as well.

“My fastball was really on today,” Klein said. “It felt good. My curveball was working great, and I felt dominant out there. The strike zone was nice, and I just felt really good, glad I had great defense behind me. Ajay Sager made a great play at second base that helped save the game.”

After working a top of the first inning that included two strikeouts and one groundout, the second had a highlight-worthy moment to start things off.

On the fifth pitch that Jeff Miller saw, he hit the ball right behind the second base bag, looking like it was surely going to be a base hit.

However, Sager raced toward the ball, dove for it, and quickly got up and darted the ball to first base for the out. The first out of the inning.

Klein followed that up with a strikeout to Jake Simmons and a groundout to Andrew Thurston, but nothing stood out more than Sager’s play.

“Everyone dreams of making a play like that,” Sager said. “I saw it going up the middle, and I thought that I wasn’t going to make it to it, so I just laid out, threw a glove at it, got up, and made a good play for the pitcher.”

Sager is known for making dramatic plays.

Last year, in the Midwest Plains Regional against the Southeast Tropics, Sager made a dazzling, diving catch that earned a spot on SportsCenter’s Top-10.

He may not be the strongest or the biggest, but Sager makes up for it with his defense.

“Honestly, being such a little guy, I try to make my defense the best to my abilities,” Sager said. “Being so little, I can’t hit as hard as everybody else, so I try to be a vacuum at second and help the pitcher as much as possible.”

As for the offense, the Fighting Squirrels eventually got the bats heated up in the fifth inning. Charleston scored nine runs in the frame, to equal the 11-0 final.

Chase Crosnoe started things with a single. Gordon Todd then laid down a sacrifice bunt, advancing Crosnoe into scoring position, while Klein drew a walk to put runners on first and second.

A single by Justin Moses then pushed Crosnoe across for a run, and Ben Bledsoe — who courtesy ran for Klein — to third base.

The offense would then continue for Charleston, as Bledsoe scored on a wild pitch, and Payton Howard doubled home a run to increase the lead to 5-0.

Brayden Eftink added to the traffic on the base-paths as he drew a walk to put runners on the corners after Howard stole third base. The Saint Louis baseball signee then tallied the sixth run of the game, after Hunter Hiett grounded to third base, and Howard eluded the tag.

Gabe Hurley would follow by reaching on a dropped third strike to load the bases for Marshall Brown, with still just one out in the frame.

Back-to-back base hits from Brown and Sager would score three more runs, making it 9-0, while Crosnoe became the second out of the inning, but still managed to score a run, on a sacrifice fly.

The scoring ended after Sager headed home on a wild pitch, becoming the 49th run for Charleston five games.

“We did something right,” Charleston head coach Michael Minner said. “We came up with big hit after big hit. It was a fun weekend. We’re going to take a couple of days off, get our bodies rested up. Hopefully, they’re sucking down some Gatorades, and then we’ll go back to work.”

Southeast Tropics 2, Missouri Outlaws 1

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Desperately needing a strong performance, and a win, the Southeast Tropics got it, due to the pitching of Noah Willingham.

Willingham gave up four hits, and one earned run. He struck out six batters and did not yield a walk, as the Tropics defeated the Missouri Outlaws in a make-up game from Friday night's rainout, 2-1.

“We needed somebody to step up on an 0-2 skid,” Southeast Tropics head coach Dustin Schwartz said. “Noah did his job, came out, and just pounded strikes, and we made some great plays behind him.”

Additionally, the Tropics got out to a good start.

Ty Johnson began the game by reaching second base on a dropped third strike. Drew Dirnberger then followed that up by advancing Johnson to third on a sacrifice bunt and later scored after Peyton Eftink grounded into a fielder’s choice to make it 1-0.

That would be the only offense for either team until the fifth inning when the Tropics made it a 2-0 game.

After two quick outs, Johnson would start another rally for Southeast. He singled and later stole second base, while Dirnberger drove him home on a base hit of his own — the only runs that the Tropics needed in this contest.

It wasn’t the strongest offensive tournament for the Tropics, but ending it on a good note was, nonetheless, a win.

Charleston Fighting Squirrels 8, Cape Girardeau Titans 6

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — The closest that the Charleston Fighting Squirrels came to losing was in the semifinals, against the Cape Girardeau Titans.

Charleston led 2-0 after the first inning and 3-0 after the second, but the Titans were able to tie the game in the bottom half of the second frame in their 8-6 loss to the Fighting Squirrels.

Back-to-back hit by pitches to Paul Kitchen and Walker Daum put two runners on with one out in the inning. Both advanced into scoring position, as well, on a wild pitch that allowed the Titans to strike.

Courtesy running for Kitchen in the same inning, Cade Emmenderfer scored on a bases-loaded walk, and Carter Crosnoe drove in two on a single to tie the game.

Then, with runners on the corners, Charleston got out of the inning after Luke Nichols picked off Crosnoe at first, and keep the score at a stalemate.

Charleston never trailed once the entire tournament, and that wasn’t going to happen against the Titans either.

In the fifth inning, the Fighting Squirrels retook the lead, after Nichols doubled and later advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Justin Moses.

A Payton Howard single would then allow Nichols to cross home and give Charleston a 4-3 lead.

Limiting the damage to one run, the Titans capitalized in the next frame. Gunner Crosnoe started the comeback by drawing a walk, and Emmednerfer advanced him to third on a double, to put both runners in scoring position, with no one out.

Bronson Lively then proceeded to get hit by a pitch to load the bases, while Zach Haggerty popped out to become the first out of the inning.

A bases-loaded walk to Noah McCoy pushed the tying run across the plate, but Nichols still found a way to get out of the mess.

Nichols struck out Matt Huey and then got Carter Crosnoe to lineout to Ajay Sager at second base, ending the frame with one run allowed.

Charleston's top of the order proved to be critical, and that showed in the following inning.

After Carter Heuring walked to start the frame, Chase Crosnoe reached on an error by the pitcher, while Heuring headed to third on the miscue.

Brayden Eftink, though, lined out, and Tanner Ray popped out, as it looked like the Titans were bound to escape.

However, Hunter Hiett drew a walk to load the bases, and then the game burst wide-open after that.

Moses singled in a pair of runs on the first pitch he saw, to make it 6-4, while Howard followed suit, with a single of his own, to score two more and make it an 8-4 contest.

Howard led the Fighting Squirrels with three RBIs and went 2-for-4 at the plate.

“Instead of trying to swing for the fences, I just tried to put the ball in play,” Howard said. “Keep my head still and see the ball. I had runners on, so I knew I had to do a job and get them in. Luckily, that worked out.”

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