Hornets’ offense remains halted in Boonville loss

Fulton senior pitcher Ryan Fritz returns to first base after hitting a single in the first inning of Tuesday night's NCMC game against Boonville at Hensley Field. Fritz had one of just four hits for the Hornets as they suffered their third straight loss, 6-1 to Boonville.

Fulton senior pitcher Ryan Fritz returns to first base after hitting a single in the first inning of Tuesday night's NCMC game against Boonville at Hensley Field. Fritz had one of just four hits for the Hornets as they suffered their third straight loss, 6-1 to Boonville. Photo by Ryan Boland.

Generally speaking, there’s no such thing as a good bug. Bugs are usually meant to be squashed or disposed of and never seen again.

Except for a hitting bug, that is. Those are the ones you want to keep around if you’re a baseball team. And unfortunately for the Fulton Hornets, they can’t seem to keep that little rascal around for an extended stay.

Fulton whittled out only four hits and one run that came all too late as it dropped a 6-1 decision to the Boonville Pirates in North Central Missouri Conference play Tuesday night at Hensley Field.

The loss was the third straight for the Hornets (4-6, 2-4), who have scored just four runs during that funk and are 14-of-67— .209 — as a team over that span.

“Hitting is contagious and right now we’re not hitting,” Fulton head coach Darren Masek said. “And that seems to be contagious.”

The Hornets are victims of the hitting bug’s weird, awkward cousin: the hitting slump. After managing just one hit in a 10-0, five-inning loss at Blair Oaks on Monday night, Fulton could ill afford to come out with another futile offensive night.

The Hornets manufactured a hit, walk and another baserunner by way of a fielder’s choice in the bottom of the first against Boonville senior starter Kyle Vander Linden. The potential scoring chance, though, was quashed on freshman shortstop Dalton Horstmeier’s fly-ball out to right to end the inning.

The bottom of the second inning saw Fulton put runners on first (senior catcher Brandon Hammerstone) and second (junior center fielder Jordan Reynolds) with just one out. Pop-ups from senior first baseman Dayton Depping and senior left fielder Joel Matthews, however, ended that threat.

Two hits, four runners and no scoring equaled mounds of frustration for Fulton.

“We’re struggling and like coach said, hitting is contagious,” said senior pitcher Ryan Fritz, who was 1-for-3. “When one guy is hitting, everyone is hitting and we just have to figure it out at the plate.”

Fritz got that message loud and clear from the Pirates lineup that tatooed the Hornets 19-1 Fulton’s season opener March 22 at Boonville. After retiring the Pirates in order in the first, the left-hander gave up back-to-back singles to the Pirates’ No. 4 and 5 hitters, junior first baseman Jason Luster and senior center fielder Kellen Kempf, to start the second.

Senior third baseman Jeremy Davis then roped the first pitch he saw from Fritz down the first-base line for a double to score Luster and Kempf. After Vander Linden sacrificed Davis to third, he scored on a Fritz wild pitch to make it 3-0.

Three runs and four hits meant another early deficit for the Hornets — a problem they’ve become accustomed to in recent games.

“When you’re not hitting the ball, it’s hard to come back,” Masek said. “We need to find a spark somewhere and I think if we come out offensively and have a good night or a good inning and find a way to come from behind, those things can lift a team and push them forward.”

Vander Linden and a sharp and speedy Boonville defense didn’t give the Hornets much of anything to catalyze that spark. The Pirates’ lineup tacked on a run each on Fritz (2-3) in the fourth, fifth and sixth, as he surrendered six runs on 10 hits while striking out five in six innings.

As for Vander Linden, aside from allowing Fulton senior courtesy runner Ben Menke to score on a groundout by Horstmeier in the sixth, the right-hander continued to parch the Hornets’ hitting drought.

Vander Linden scattered four hits, walked one and hit a batter in securing the complete-game win. He struck out three but allowed his fielders to get in some good work.

The Pirates (8-3, 5-1), ranked No. 9 in Class 3 by the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association, forced the Hornets into 11 fly-ball outs — seven hauled in by Kempf — and seven groundouts on 87 pitches.

“He got the count in his favor, put the ball in the air. ... When you get routine groundballs and fly outs, most of the time those will get caught,” Masek said. “We have to find a better way to center the ball and hit line drives and give ourselves a chance to get on base.”

How that will happen is the task for Fulton hitters. The Hornets have games remaining this week at NCMC foe Marshall on Thursday and home against district opponent Jefferson City Helias on Friday.

Players know that later in the season their offensive issues will need to be ironed out.

“It’s timely hitting and we just have to go up there and focus,” Fritz said. “I think we get up there and get tense and nervous, and just need to relax more.”

“The thing about it is that I don’t know what there is to be nervous about. Because there’s not much worse than losing.”

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