Hornets fall to Mexico in district semis

— The Fulton Hornets collected more than enough hits in their Class 4, District 8 semifinal against the rival Mexico Bulldogs.

Unfortunately, none of those were the productive type Fulton would ultimately need.

The third-seeded Hornets out-hit the No. 2 Bulldogs 13-3, but stranded seven baserunners in a season-ending 7-3 loss at Harley Park on Monday afternoon.

Fulton — which throttled No. 6 seed Missouri Military Academy 21-3 in first-round play Saturday — ended its season with a 13-11 record.

“I thought our approach was fine; I just think we didn’t hit the ball in the right spots at the right time,” Hornets head coach Darren Masek said.

Mexico (19-7) will play top-seeded Boonville for the District 8 title at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The Pirates (18-8) ousted No. 5 seed Kirksville 6-1 in Monday’s other semifinal.

Fulton freshman catcher Isaiah Pani singled with one out in the top of the first, one of his three hits on the day. Pani was replaced by freshman pinch-runner Josh Quick, who then stole second. Quick, though, was stranded there as senior designated hitter Paul Books flied out to right and senior center fielder Kory Masek struck out to end the inning.

The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead in their half of the first when senior starter Gavin Jones’ sacrifice fly to center with one out scored junior third baseman Cody Creed.

Fulton responded with consecutive singles from sophomore right fielder Zach Franklin and sophomore third baseman Trenton Clines with one out in the second. Freshman shortstop Devin Masek loaded the bases on a two-out single to right, but Hornets senior starter Dalton Horstmeier flied out to center to close out the inning.

Mexico extended its advantage in the bottom of the second without registering a hit. Junior shortstop Tyler Bracht hit a bouncer back to the mound with the bases loaded, forcing sophomore left fielder D’Milo Nunnelly at home for the second out.

Pani attempted to double up Bracht at first, but his throw sailed past senior first baseman Tyler Echelmeier and sophomore designated hitter Scott Speaks scored on the play to make it 2-0.

“We made a couple of mistakes early on in the game to let the first two runs score,” Darren Masek said. “… Those things get magnified in a game like this.”

Pani and Echelmeier both singled in Fulton’s third, but neither hit turned into runs. Meanwhile, Horstmeier retired Mexico in order in its half of the inning.

The Hornets picked up singles from sophomore second baseman Tristan Steffens and Devin Masek in the fourth and Pani drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Books, however, grounded the first pitch he saw to second to stop another Fulton threat.

Nunnelly walked to lead off the Bulldogs’ fourth, but was thrown out by Pani while trying to steal second. Horstmeier then walked Speaks, who promptly scored when junior center fielder Austyn Sampo sent the first pitch he saw over the fence in left for a two-run home run to push Mexico’s edge to 4-0.

After two more walks issued by Horstmeier, Darren Masek brought Books in from the bullpen. Horstmeier gave up four runs — only two earned — on just two hits in 3 1/3 innings, but wrestled with his control. He walked six, hit a batter and struck out two to take the loss.

“I think the emotions played a part in (the control problems) today,” Darren Masek said. “We were pretty erratic on the mound and I think some frustration set in and that’s probably why we were a little wild.”

Books also fought his command, plunking Nunnelly and Speaks on consecutive at-bats in the fifth. Nunnelly eventually scored on a passed ball. Senior Joe Schlemeier replaced Books with one out and Bracht reached on an error by Horstmeier, now at shortstop, allowing Speaks to score as Mexico built a 6-0 advantage.

Clines singled and Steffens doubled to begin Fulton’s sixth and the Hornets finally broke through on the scoreboard when Horstmeier delivered an RBI double to center. Pani continued the rally with a single and Horstmeier scored on a passed ball as Fulton closed within 6-3, but Books and Kory Masek were both retired to finish the inning.

Devin Masek and Steffens both finished 2-for-3 and Clines was 2-for-4 as Darren Masek was impressed with the poise displayed by the Hornets’ bottom of the lineup.

“They had very good at-bats throughout the game and I look for bigger and better things for them next year as sophomores and juniors,” Darren Masek said.

Nunnelly tripled home senior catcher Frank Nickoley with two outs in the sixth for the Bulldogs’ final run. Nunnelly finished 1-for-1, while Nickoley and Sampo were both 1-for-2 to account for Mexico’s hits.

The Hornets collected all of their hits off Jones, who threw 5 2/3 innings to earn the win. He allowed three earned runs, struck out four and walked one.

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