FULTON -- The Fulton Hornets may not have gotten the home-opening result they wanted, but their pitcher Ethan Milius had a tremendous outing in his first-ever start.
When it was all said and done, Fulton's bats, fielders nor relievers could support Milius's performance as the Fatima Comets prevailed 12-0 in the district matchup Thursday at Darrell Davis Field.
One would think Fatima cruised to victory by the final score, but it was a two-run game after five innings -- the entirety of Milius's time pitching.
In those five innings, Milius allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits and two walks while striking out six -- and he did it against a team that beat state champions St. Elizabeth (Class 1) and Russellville (Class 2) last season.
Milius showed his ability to get out of pressure in just the first inning, making three straight outs after allowing a leadoff single to Fatima's Blake Gentges. Milius ended the frame with his first career strikeout, sending the Comets' Jack Robertson down on six pitches -- Robertson didn't get a hit with Milius on the mound, though he drove in two runs when the Hornets starter wasn't pitching.
Following his stellar first, Fatima notched a run apiece in the second and third.
The Comets' Cody Schwartze sent home the contest's first run on a sacrifice fly to right-center. Then, in the third, Gentges beat a throw from Fulton's shortstop to drive home Brody Kleffner, who was walked to begin the inning -- Kleffner stole second then reached third on a wild pitch during Gentges's at-bat.
After Fatima scored its final run against Milius, the Hornets pitcher sent them down 1-2-3, which included a strikeout to end the inning.
For his final two innings, Milius was in cruise control for the most part. In that time, he allowed two singles and hit a batter while striking out three -- two Comets reached on errors.
Milius did his part to keep Fulton in it, and it came after he hit two of the Hornets' three extra-base hits against Kirksville Tuesday, which shows how valuable the sophomore is to the team.
"I thought he did a phenomenal job," Fulton coach Jacob Lorentzen said. "There wasn't anything different than I was hoping that would come out from that. I mean, for his first start, he's a competitive kid. Like, it didn't matter if it was his first start or his 10th. Like that's, that's what you're gonna get out of him at the varsity level. And I really thought that he pitched well. He even went an inning more than what I was expecting him to get out of there into that."
Fulton wasn't the only team with its starter dealing; Fatima's was too.
The Comets' Max Buscher tossed a no-hitter in his first five innings of work.
In those five innings, Buscher struck out five while walking one -- the first batter he faced. Fulton only had two runners reach in its first five frames at the plate -- the second came on a throwing error by Fatima's shortstop with one out in the second.
"He was hitting the outside corner really well tonight," Lorentzen said. "And we didn't make quite the adjustments we needed to at the plate. There's not much I don't know. I mean, he commanded what he needed to, for sure. I don't think we looked silly. I mean, we had decent at-bats, a couple of looking strikes. But I thought we were trying to find a way to get deeper into counts, something we've been working on to try to take guys deeper in counts. When you face a guy that's dealing that well, that puts you in a hole pretty quickly."
Finally, the Hornets figured Buscher out, but it came after the Comets scored five runs to take a 7-0 lead after 5 1/2 innings.
Gabe DeFily was the first Fulton player to get a hit against Buscher, smacking a single in front of Fatima's right fielder. The Comets then turned a double play on Wyatt Wilfley's flyout to right field, with the right fielder throwing it to first to get DeFily out after he tagged up.
Buscher's outing ended after Ethan Burt hit a tapper past the Fatima pitcher, beating the throw from him for a single.
Burt's single came after he allowed Fatima to take a seven-run advantage in the top half of the sixth.
During that five-run frame for the Comets, they got their hits the way they did for most of them -- hitting the ball into gaps in the outfield.
Gentges got the run-scoring started in the sixth with a two-RBI double past the reach of Fulton's left fielder.
Burt walked the next hitter and received a mound visit before allowing a two-RBI double to Jacob Schulte, whose batted ball found a gap in right-center.
Robertson capped off Fatima's scoring in the sixth with an RBI sacrifice fly to left field.
Five seemed to be the number on the Comets' mind as they plated another five in the seventh.
William Woods commit Jayce Thompson pitched the final frame for Fulton, and he allowed four earned runs on three hits and two walks.
Kleffner found an alley in shallow right-center to drive home Fatima's first run in the seventh -- that run was unearned for Thompson, as the runner reached on an error.
During the next at-bat, the Comets' Gentges drove home the final two of his game-high five RBI on a single to shallow left field. Fatima scored one more on a groundout before achieving its last run on Robertson's RBI single down the left-field line.
Fatima's leading hitter, Gentges,pitched the final 1 1/3 innings and ensured Fulton couldn't recover from its insurmountable deficit. The senior allowed just one hit -- a Walker Gohring leadoff double in the seventh -- and a walk while striking out one.
Gentges's lone strikeout came against the Hornets' Taylor Shiverdecker for the final out of the game.
With cold weather and snow flurries for a couple of innings, the Comets persevered in an important matchup for district seeding. And it's a challenging district, to say the least; Class 4 District 8 has two state-ranked teams (Class 4 No. 1 Southern Boone, No. 4 Tolton) and two receiving votes (Fatima, Blair Oaks).
"I told the guys in there that this game, it didn't scare me," Lorentzen said. "I'd like to play it again in late April and May. Like, I'll do this game again, and it's gonna be a close game. Like, I mean, we're probably gonna get a chance to play them again if we want to do well. And I'm not afraid of that, and I think I think it's gonna be a good contest come May. A little warmer, guys, a little sharper in both ends, but I'm excited."
Fulton (1-1) will look to get back on track when it travels to Eldon to take on the Eldon Mustangs (0-3) at 5 p.m. Monday in Eldon. It's an excellent opportunity for the Hornets to rebound, as they beat the Mustangs 8-0 on March 28 in Fulton last season.
"I'm excited," Lorentzen said. "We're gonna get, obviously, it's nice to get out there again. We're still trying to find a couple of guys in some spots. And so I think that's a good game to try to stretch some guys out and try to find some holes maybe in our lineup that we saw tonight on how we can get some guys to put some hits together.