T-Birds erase six-run deficit, jolt Hornets 7-6

Dak Dillon/FULTON SUN photo: North Callaway’s Zach Lavy (left) congratulates Collin Brinker after his two-run home run in the third inning of Friday’s game at Hensley Field. The Thunderbirds overcame a six-run deficit to clip the Hornets 7-6.

Dak Dillon/FULTON SUN photo: North Callaway’s Zach Lavy (left) congratulates Collin Brinker after his two-run home run in the third inning of Friday’s game at Hensley Field. The Thunderbirds overcame a six-run deficit to clip the Hornets 7-6.

In the three times that Fulton and North Callaway played each other in the 2010 baseball season, the Hornets swept the contests by a combined score of 20-4.

And while the final contest — a 1-0 Fulton victory in the Class 3, District 8 title game — was tight, the first two wins were more decisive. The Hornets easily prevailed 12-3 at North Callaway and 7-1 in the Fulton Tournament.

The Hornets seemed to be on their merry way to another emphatic win Friday night when they jumped out to a 6-0 lead after two innings.

“We usually play pretty solid defense and had some mental lapses,” Thunderbirds head coach Kevin O’Neal. “We messed up a couple of bunt coverages and had a couple of errors, but we got focus back and finished out strong.”

The Thunderbirds charged on while the Hornets wilted as the North Callaway scored seven unanswered runs — including two in the top of the seventh inning — to stun the Hornets 7-6 at Hensley Field.

Fulton (2-3) owned a 6-5 lead with one out in the top of the seventh when North Callaway senior first baseman Paul Risher hit into a potential game-ending double play. The Hornets tagged out senior catcher Zak Kee on the force at second, but Fulton senior first baseman Dayton Depping missed the scoop for the final out.

The ball squirted past Depping, allowing junior right fielder Collin Brinker and junior center fielder Ty Webster to score and put North Callaway (4-0) in front for the first time in the game.

And it turned out to be the only time that mattered.

“You got to give credit to North Callaway because they were down 6-0 and they never gave up,” Fulton head coach Darren Masek said. “We had too many mistakes on the base paths, too many strikeouts at the plate and it just wasn’t a very well-played game on our part.”

This loss — the Hornets’ second straight — wasn’t the kind of performance Masek looked for out of his team. Fulton was back on the Hensley diamond just 24 hours after losing to Kirksville 3-2 despite throwing a combined no-hitter.

Though, the way the Hornets’ bats were rattling Friday, it seemed like the pitching staff might not have go out and put up goose eggs.

Freshman shortstop Dalton Horstmeier sent the first pitch he saw into deep center — over the head of Webster — for a two-out double that scored senior right fielder Nick Christensen and senior first baseman Alex Thomas in the bottom of the first.

Fulton tacked on four more runs on two hits in the second inning, mostly by way of baseball’s equivalent of the short game. After failing to reign in Kirksville bunt attempts the night before, Hornets senior catcher Brandon Hammerstone and junior left fielder Jake Abbott both squeezed their way on to load the bases.

Christensen worked Thunderbirds junior starter Zach Lavy to a full count before drawing a one-out walk to score sophomore courtesy runner Randall Cole, making it 3-0.

Thomas knocked in two more runs with a single and Christensen scored from third when North Callaway failed to pick Thomas off at second base.

From then on, Fulton left three men on and managed just two base hits the rest of the way.

“We got up early in the first two innings and played well, but for whatever reason, offensively we went kind of stale,” Masek said.

North Callaway stuck with Lavy through the fourth inning. And despite his early struggles, O’Neal never gave a thought to pulling the hook on the right-hander.

“It’s early in the year, so I wanted him to work through those situations and see how we were going to respond behind him and how he’d respond,” O’Neal said.

Lavy ended his work on the mound by surrendering only those two hits while striking out five. And just as he found a groove on the hill, Lavy discovered a rhythm in the batter’s box.

He got a one-out single off Fulton junior starter Jake Nickelson in the third and scored when Brinker sent a 3-2 fastball over the fence in left to cut the Hornets’ lead to 6-2.

Making his first varsity start, Nickelson gave up two runs on three hits while facing 16 hitters. The right-hander, who earned a no-decision, was one of two Fulton pitchers who got their first taste of varsity game time on the mound.

“I thought Jake Nickelson pitched fine,” Masek said. “He had just a couple of bad pitches and, unfortunately, they were both to Brinker.”

In all, the Hornets trotted out four different arms to the mound, including three after Nickelson to try and protect the lead. Junior right-hander Burke Echelmeier worked a scoreless fourth before getting roughed up for three North Callaway runs in the fifth.

Most of that damage came off the bat of Webster, who sent a 0-2 offering down the line and over the head of Fulton junior third baseman Austin Harrison to score Lavy and Brinker.

Webster later scored on a failed pickoff of Kee to bring North Callaway within 6-5.

“Guys obviously know that they didn’t play very well and they want to get it corrected,” Masek said. “It’s a team thing and we aren’t going to point any fingers, but we had some plays that should have been made.”

Lavy scored two runs and went 2-for-3 as North Callaway totalled 10 hits, while Brinker went 4-for-4 and ended up pitching a scoreless seventh to record the save. Sophomore Justin Murphy pitched a one-hit sixth inning to end as up as the winning pitcher.

Fulton senior Ryan Fritz, brought in with one out in the seventh to try and close the game, suffered his second loss in as many nights after giving up the final two runs.

“I told them we needed that one run and we need to have our best at-bats of the game in that inning, and the kids went up there and put the ball in play,” O’Neal said. “Fulton is a good baseball team, so you have to bring your best if you’re going to beat them.”

For now, the Thunderbirds and the Hornets are two teams going in opposite directions. But those paths could almost certainly cross, once again, in district play. And — judging by Friday night’s result — it’s anybody’s guess how that one will turn out.

“They’re a good team and they’re going to be there come district time, and I think we’ll be there, too,” Masek said. “They got us tonight and maybe we’ll have a chance later in the season.”

Fulton junior center fielder Jordan Reynolds hit a two-run home run to lead the Hornets (4-1) to a 4-1 win over North Callaway (3-1) in the junior varsity game.

Fulton travels to Moberly for a North Central Missouri Conference matchup at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

North Callaway played at Blair Oaks on Saturday. Results were not available at press time. The Thunderbirds host Louisiana at 5 p.m. Monday.

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