ANITA — Three fielding errors and just as many baserunning blunders weren't enough to sink Lenox in Thursday's Class 1A District 13 semifinal.
"We had some uncharacteristic things that shouldn't happen, but we survived those situations and we lived to play another day," Tiger coach Tyler Peterson said after his team's 3-2 victory over Earlham.
Senior ace pitcher Jared Hensley tossed three no-hit innings before leaving under the 41 pitches that would require more than one day's rest. Kaleb Anderson reached his 40-pitch limit with a 3-2 count on Cardinal center fielder Jackson Lenocker to start the sixth inning, so junior Aaron Schmitz finished on the hill. Schmitz allowed just two baserunners on a sixth-inning single and a two-out error in the seventh when he thought the game had ended.
"Yeah, I thought he caught it," Schmitz said of the soft liner that squirted out of the glove of third baseman Derek Venteicher, "so I started celebrating. I had to get back up there and I threw some of my best pitches."
Schmitz struck out Caleb Swalla to leave the tying run stranded on first base, pushing the 20-5 Tigers into Saturday's district final against 20-7 CAM on the same field. CAM rolled past Nodaway Valley 6-0 on the one-hit pitching of Thomas Hensley.
Earlham's season ended at 13-17.
The winner of Saturday's game advances to the substate round against either 10th-ranked Council Bluffs St. Albert, a 10-0 winner Thursday over Fremont-Mills; or Stanton, which advanced Thursday with a 3-0 victory over Logan-Magnolia.
Lenox's Hensley — no relation to CAM's junior star — said mistakes by the Tigers Thursday, such as his own baserunning error on a one-out popup, and other miscues including a botched squeeze bunt play and two-run fielding error on a slow roller could be good learning experiences for the deeper tournament trail.
"Those are things we have to clean up," Hensley said, "but maybe it's a good thing for us to have a close game like this and get the jitters out a little bit. We haven't been in a district final since my sophomore year, and we haven't won a district final since my freshman year when we beat Fremont-Mills. That year we lost to Underwood at substate in eight innings at Glenwood."
Coach Tyler Peterson expressed similar sentiments, and is glad to have all four of his veteran pitchers at his disposal Saturday (see related story).
"We had some things tonight you don't normally see," Peterson said. "That popup at the end there; we lobbed it over to first and had an error that scored two for them to tie it up. But I told the guys, when one guy falls, someone else picks him up. That's why it's a team game. On Saturday, it should be a game of who makes the plays at the right time."
Lenox had to overcome an early injury scare while scoring the first run of the game in the second inning against Earlham junior pitcher Quinn Weber.
Colton Hogan hit a one-out double into center field. But on a Weber attempt to pick him off, Hogan reinjured his right shoulder diving back to second. Pinch runner Jhordan Montiel came in for him and raced home as Brenden Christensen grounded out to first and the throw across the infield from first baseman Garrett Boyle was wild as Montiel was heading to third.
Hogan's mother Nicole, a nurse at Greater Regional Medical Center, attended to her son as he sat near second base after the injury. He was able to return to the game after the Tigers were retired that inning with a 1-0 lead.
"My sophomore year in football I hurt it and when baseball season rolled around last year I did some more things to hurt it," Hogan related. "I has surgery over the winter for a torn labrum and missed basketball. Then in the second game of our (baseball) season, I slid into home and my left shoulder started popping out on me. Tonight when I dove back into second was the first time my right shoulder gave me any problems since surgery. My mom was out there and had a feeling what was going on. It's what they call a sub-lax. It comes partially out of its socket. We got it back in place and it's just sore now. I was able to stretch it out and move it around OK. I guess I was just born with bad shoulders."
Anderson came in to pitch the fourth inning with a 1-0 lead and catcher Dawson Tullberg fired a bullet to Hensley at shortstop to cut down a stolen base attempt. Earlham came into the game with 108 stolen bases in 122 attempts.
Hogan's groundout scored Tullberg for a 2-0 lead in the Lenox fourth inning.
Earlham had a leadoff single, stolen base and a hit-by-pitch for two baserunners early in the fifth. Swalla, the ninth batter in the Cardinals' order, hit a slow roller between the mound and first base. The exchange from Anderson to Hogan was mishandled as Swalla was racing to the bag, and as the ball bounced behind the bag both Earlham runners scored to tie it 2-2.
Drew Venteicher helped Lenox respond with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth, which made Anderson the winning pitcher before leaving early in the sixth.
Venteicher stroked a double into left field to lead off the inning. Colton Gordon was then safe on a bunt to put Venteicher at third base. He was chased home on Hensley's RBI single through the left side of the infield.
But, the Tigers wasted a chance to spread the lead to 5-2 that inning. Gordon was out in a rundown between third and home when a pitch was far outside on a squeeze bunt and Anderson was unable to get his bat on it. Then, with one out, Hensley ran home on an infield popup by Anderson, and second baseman Colin Forcht threw to third before Hensley realized he needed to tag up.
Schmitz finished the game successfully, stranding one runner in each the sixth and seventh innings.
Hensley said the team is primed to play sharper on Saturday.
"We'll be ready for it," he said.
Lenox 3, Earlham 2
R H E
Earl 000 020 0 — 2 2 3
Len 010 110 x — 3 6 3
E: Quinn Weber 0K 0BB 1 HBP, Colin Forcht (5) 1K 0BB and Alex Caskey. L: Jared Hensley 1K 1BB, Kaleb Anderson (4) 2K 1BB, Aaron Schmitz (6) 3K 0BB and Dawson Tullberg. W — Anderson (1-4). L— Forcht (2-2). HR — none. 3B — none. 2B — L: Colton Hogan, Drew Venteicher. RBI — E: Caleb Swalla 1. L: Hensley 1, Hogan 1. Multiple hitters — L: Colton Gordon 2.