NEW BLOOMFIELD, Mo. — As he trotted down the third-base line after cranking a two-run homer, Isaiah Pani bellowed out a boisterous, "Let's go!"
"I came up with a mentality to just drive the ball and hit it hard somewhere," Pani said. "And when I saw it fly, it was kind of cool — it got me hyped, it got me fired up, and since it was the first at-bat of the season, hopefully that sets a mentality for the rest of the season."
The Fulton Hornets' dugout echoed Pani's cry, then the bats made some noise of their own. Pani — a senior catcher — deposited a 1-2 offering over the left-field fence, sparking a six-run second inning as state-ranked Fulton roughed up the New Bloomfield Wildcats 15-2 in five innings to open each team's season Friday night.
Pani's blast opened the scoring, and it was a cathartic shot for Pani in Hornets head coach John Brinkmann's opinion.
"For a guy to come in and drive the ball like that, especially Pani, I know he wanted early to get the camel off his back from last year, so it was pretty big for us," Brinkmann said.
Fulton — ranked fourth in the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches' Association preseason Class 4 poll — continued its second-inning assault with back-to-back doubles to the warning track from seniors Devon Keltner and Cameron Vititoe. Keltner — the Hornets' left fielder — scored on a passed ball, while a groundout to second by senior right fielder Devan Hudson pushed the designated hitter Vititoe home to increase Fulton's advantage to 4-0.
Senior center fielder Alec Fleetwood scored on a one-out triple by senior second baseman Josh Quick, and senior third baseman Luke Gray moved Quick home with a fielder's choice groundout to cap the inning off.
"That first inning, we chased a few up, and we had a quick talk and said, 'Guys, make him come to you,'" Brinkman said. " Passing on to the next guy is our approach at the plate, and I think we did a nice job of that tonight."
Fulton sent 11 batters to the plate in the second. It was a stark contrast to being sat down in order by New Bloomfield senior starter Robert Manning in the first.
"You hold the ball a little tighter, you think a little bit more, and they just found some at-bats in that second inning," Wildcats head coach Justin Forsythe said.
New Bloomfield led off its half of the second with a single by senior left fielder Tommy Bedsworth and eventually loaded the bases with two outs. Hornets senior starter Taylor Nelson worked out of the predicament by forcing senior third baseman Johnny Elliott into an inning-ending groundout.
Fulton added three more runs in the third, while New Bloomfield finally broke through in the bottom of the frame. The Wildcats notched their lone tallies when senior center fielder Evan Roddy and junior catcher Nick Hammann both scored on a missed scoop at first base by the Hornets.
New Bloomfield packed the bases again with a chance to chip further into what was then a 9-2 Fulton lead. Sophomore right fielder Jacob Lane chopped one back to Nelson, however, to end the threat.
"Us leaving those runners in scoring position kind of hurt us offensively early, and we just didn't have a chance later on," Forsythe said.
The Wildcats showed patience at the plate and seemed willing to make Nelson work through some location issues. The Hornets' lefty let the leadoff man on in all three of his innings, but worked his way out of the aforementioned jams to nab the victory.
Nelson scattered two hits, struck out two, walked four and gave up two unearned runs.
"He's the kind of pitcher that doesn't need to think too much," Pani said. " We talked to him about getting up there and just going as fast as he could, and when he does that, he throws strikes."
Fulton notched four runs in the fourth and two in the fifth to complete its scoring. Keltner went 3-for-3 with four runs scored, Vititoe was 2-for-2 with an RBI and three runs scored, while Pani also finished 2-for-2. Senior shortstop Devin Masek was 2-for-3 with an RBI as the Hornets hammered out 13 hits.
Manning allowed eight runs — five earned — on six hits and walked one in 2 2/3 innings to take the loss. He finished with one of New Bloomfield's four hits, going 1-for-3 along with Hammann and Bedsworth, while Elliott was 1-for-2.
The Wildcats hosted Tipton and Vienna — ranked fifth in Class 2 — in a doubleheader Saturday. New Bloomfield lost the first game to Vienna 6-2 and won the second game against Tipton 12-2. The Wildcats will be in action Monday at home against Blair Oaks.
Fulton opens its home schedule against North Callaway at 5 p.m. Monday.