The degree of difficulty in Maize’s baseball home opener was already high with reigning Class 6A champion Blue Valley West in town Friday.
Then the visiting Jaguars scored five runs in the first two innings.
“I think we were a little shell-shocked at first,” Maize junior Connor Lungwitz said.
But Eagles coach Rocky Helm doesn’t mind if it’s early April or late May — he likes his team to be tested.
Lungwitz supplied some of the resolve Helm was seeking with 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief pitching. Maize chipped away against BV West starter Ryan Ralston and reliever Davis Schwab, but eventually stranded the tying run at third in the seventh, as the Jaguars held on 5-4 in a battle of 6A’s No. 1- and No. 3-ranked teams.
Top-ranked BV West also spoiled Maize South’s season opener, defeating the Mavericks 9-1 in the first of two games at Maize High.
Eight of the 12 batters Maize senior starter Drew Johnson faced reached base, as the right-hander struggled to command his pitches. Johnson threw 37 pitches in the first inning and allowed three runs, then gave up two runs in the second as a wild pitch ended his day.
“Usually, he’s nails,” Helm said. “His control is great. He just didn’t have it today. Thankfully, our guys behind him kept us right where we needed to be.”
Maize’s comeback challenge was also complicated by Ralston, a University of Kansas signee who made his first pitching start of the season under the watchful eyes of several scouts. Ralston went four innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He struck out five and walked three.
Schwab relieved Ralston in the fifth and inherited a 5-2 lead. Maize (1-1) took advantage of two Jaguar errors to cut its deficit to 5-4. Catcher Jacob Karst delivered the key hit, a bases-loaded infield single that produced two runs when BV West shortstop Luke Viestenz threw wildly to first.
“There at the end, we had the lead, but they were taking the game from us emotionally,” BV West coach Bill McDonald said. “We had to remember we had the lead. They didn’t have the lead.”
After Maize relievers Kohl Glatczak and K.C. Proctor followed Lungwitz and kept the Jaguars in check, Eagles center fielder Corrigan Bartlett led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to right. Jimmy Fisher sacrificed Bartlett to second and Lungwitz advanced him to third with a fly out to right. But Schwab, a left-hander, struck out Karst to end the game.
Maize right fielder Seth Troll went 3 for 4 with two runs scored. Neosho County signee Evan Bourn had three hits, two RBIs and scored twice for BV West.
“I think we learned what kind of team we were today,” Lungwitz said. “Playing that kind of team this early really does help because it kind of shows you what you’re going to be up against in May if you make it that far.”
A baserunning error, a dropped third strike and a slightly wide throw were all things BV West capitalized on to pull away.
“I told the kids there’s a difference between an older team and a younger team,” Christensen said. “The younger team runs itself out of an inning. The older team keeps the pressure on and keeps doing what they’re doing.”
The Jaguars scored two in the third after leadoff batter Sam Davis reached safely when a third strike skipped to the backstop. In the fourth, BV West second baseman Garrett Smith reached when Maize South shortstop Drake Bliss’ throw to first pulled Anthony Johnson off the bag.
That ignited a four-run inning for the Jaguars, who also benefitted from Davis’ RBI single, Harrison Whitney’s bunt single and three walks.
While Bourn struck out five Mavericks the first time through the order, Maize South finished with seven hits and got solid relief pitching from junior Logan Mormando.
“Being the first game of the year, we can build off it,” Christensen said. “I saw a lot of positive things that we did. But we can have a better approach at the plate and we’ve got to get on top of hitters as pitchers.”
BV West 5, Maize 4
|BV West||320||000||0||—||5 11 3|
|Maize||011||020||0||—||4 8 1|
W — Ralston. L – Johnson. Sv – Schwab.
BV West 9, Maize South 1
|BV West||112||400||1||—||9 13 1|
|Maize South||001||000||0||—||1 7 1|
W — Bourn. L — Sweat.