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In Lorentzen’s first year as coach, Fulton baseball finishes fourth in state

by Robby Campbell | June 2, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Fulton's baseball team poses for a photo with their fourth-place trophy and medals after it lost to Excelsior Springs in the Class 4 third-place game Thursday at Sky Bacon Stadium in Ozark. (Shawley Photography/Courtesy)

OZARK -- The Fulton Hornets took the lead first and tied it in the top of the sixth, but the Excelsior Springs Tigers loaded the bases in the seventh and then walked it off on Kaelan Bedford's RBI single.

In a battle between two public schools that lost to private schools in the semifinals, Fulton fell 6-5 to seventh-ranked Excelsior Springs in the Class 4 third-place game Thursday afternoon at Sky Bacon Stadium.

Unlike their semifinals game, the Hornets had good baserunning and fielded better than their opponent.

"We talked about it a lot this morning about making sure that we're doing the little things right, getting aggressive when we can," Lorentzen said. "And the boys did a good job. That one's a really tough pill to swallow with just kind of some things that we didn't capitalize on; we should have been able to capitalize a little better."

But unlike its previous matchup, Fulton didn't pitch well. Hornets starter Walker Gohring allowed five runs on four hits, four walks and a hit by pitch while striking out two in 3⅓ innings.

"I don't want to make excuses, but the mound was kind of pieced together right where Walker Gohring landed, and he just couldn't ever get comfortable in the game," Lorentzen said. "And so he threw a lot of balls, threw a lot of out of strike zone because he just kept slipping.

"Because it's just, they replaced part of the mound, and it just wasn't even. It wasn't good for him, just because of where he landed, which caused him just to kind of get out of a sink and out of rhythm and unfortunately didn't go as deep as we wanted him to."

Excelsior Springs starter Bedford didn't allow an earned run in 4⅓ innings. However, with Bedford on the mound, the Tigers made three errors.

Fulton took the lead on an Excelsior Springs error in the third.

Gabe DeFily, who hit a leadoff single, scored the Hornets' first run when Ethan Milius reached on a throwing error by the Tigers' second baseman.

During the next at-bat, Milius stole second on a wild pitch before making it to third after a drop third strike. Then, Ben Leslie -- the hero at the plate in two of Fulton's postseason contests -- extended the Hornets' lead to 2-0 with an RBI single up the middle.

The Tigers walked Dusty Hagens, and Jayce Thompson -- playing in his last high school game like Hagens -- slapped an opposite-field RBI single to right. "F-U-L, T-O-N" chants ensued as Thompson extended Fulton's lead and recorded the final RBI of his career.

"It's really nice; we took a good lead," Lorentzen said.

Excelsior Springs responded by going up 5-3 in the fourth, but the Hornets stung the Tigers' tail in the fifth and sixth to tie it at 5.

After Leslie reached on an error and Hagens hit a single in the fifth, Leslie came home when Luke Holland stole second, and Excelsior Springs's catcher overthrew his second baseman.

While Fulton couldn't tie it in the fifth, it did so an inning later.

With two outs in the sixth, Leslie tapped a grounder to the pitcher, and he threw the ball to his catcher to try getting Wyatt Wilfley out, but the Hornets' leadoff hitter hustled home and just beat the tag. Then, Hagens flew out to right, ending the frame.

"They kind of gave us a gift there to get it tied across the plate," Lorentzen said. "But, that's big in that moment. You're going into it with a tie, and you got a guy at the on the mound, he's gonna throw you some strikes, so that's good.

"Would've been nice to get one or two more there the inning before with the guy that they threw out there. But, I think we stranded 11 or 12 guys on the base paths today, and so that's a little much when you're trying to win a game at state."

Trying to go up in the top half of the seventh, Fulton had two runners reach with two outs before Wilfley grounded into a fielder's choice at short for the final out.

Unfortunately for the Hornets, the Tigers walked it off after they lost on a walk-off in the semifinals.

Excelsior Springs tallied three straight singles to load the pads, then Bedford called the game, ripping a run-scoring base hit past third and into left.

"Those guys that go around the field are all sophomores," Lorentzen said. "They played a lot there. Wyatt Wilfley, he'll make that play nine times in a row for the next part of it. I mean, he will.

"I have all the trust in the world. That guy's got great hands over there. It's just unfortunate when those things happen in big spots like that."

DeFily, who had a team-high two hits for Fulton and made phenomenal plays in the field, took the loss in relief for the Hornets. He allowed one earned run on four hits in ⅔ inning.

Fulton used three pitchers, and Ethan Burt was the only one not to allow a run. In two innings, he allowed six hits and a hit-by-pitch while punching out one.

Brendan Blackburn earned the win for Excelsior Springs. Tossing one inning, he allowed no runs on a hit and a walk and struck out one.

Two losses at state may have stung the Hornets, but their seniors ended their careers with special memories in a fairytale postseason run.

Two of Fulton's seniors, Hagens (University of Missouri-St. Louis) and Thompson (William Woods) will play baseball in college, while Gohring will join Westminster College's men's basketball team.

"They're irreplaceable as people; they're phenomenal," Lorentzen said. "Those three especially are just great program guys that you hope that can continue to build kind of that same atmosphere around for the rest of these guys as they get older. Because they just do things right. And they're competitive, but yet they want everybody else to learn.

"I really can't say enough about those guys. I love them. I'm not quite old enough to have kids that age, but I'll take them."

Making the Hornets' improbable journey to state all the more impressive -- it all happened under first-year coach Lorentzen. Additionally, Fulton won its first North Central Missouri Conference title outright and the Fulton Tournament for the fourth "confirmed" time.

"You can't hold our heads down at all about this season," Lorentzen said. "Everything we're in, we've got a trophy to prove that we are successful and that this is a program to build around. It's the first year (winning the) conference (outright), our own tournament title. We got a district champion; we get a trophy out here to come to state. It's everything we've done shows the hard work these have guys put off every single day."

photo Fulton's Jayce Thompson receives the fourth-place trophy from a MSHSAA official after its Class 4 third-place game Thursday at Sky Bacon Stadium in Ozark. (Shawley Photography/Courtesy)
photo Fulton coach Jacob Lorentzen receives his fourth-place medal, shaking hands with a MSHSSA official after the Hornets' Class 4 third-place game against Excelsior Springs Thursday at Sky Bacon Stadium in Ozark. (Shawley Photography/Courtesy)
photo Fulton's Walker Gohring throws a pitch to an Excelsior Springs batter in the Class 4 third-place game Thursday at Sky Bacon Stadium in Ozark. (Shawley Photography/Courtesy)

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