BY ETHAN LILLARD
FORT MADISON – It took Fort Madison’s baseball team seven games last season to score 16 runs.
Monday night during the Bloodhounds’ season-opening double header against Burlington at Fort Madison High School, the Hounds scored a combined 17 runs over the course of nearly two games.
Fort Madison dropped the first game of the double header 11-7 to the Grayhounds, before rebounding and owning a 10-2 lead heading into the sixth inning in game two.
Mother Nature wouldn’t allow the full seven innings to be played in the second contest with the rain putting the game on hold. Depending on both team’s schedules, the game may or may not be finished with the two innings extra needed to be played.
“We’ll see if we can find a makeup date and if we can’t, we’ll just call it a final,” Fort Madison Head Coach Ron Walker said. “The state wants us to play a full seven if we can.”
The Bloodhounds didn’t get the start they had hoped for in game No. 1, as they trailed Burlington 9-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning.
Fort Madison used a bit of small ball to its advantage in the home half of the fourth. Jace Burgher started the inning getting hit by a pitch from Mason Fort. Landes Williams followed by grounding into a fielder’s choice, as Fort collected the come-backer to the pitcher and flipped the ball to second for the force out.
With Williams on first, Tate Johnson found a soft spot in the Burlington outfield for a single, moving Williams to third in the process. Senior Dayne Cordray went down on strikes, before Williams came in to score from third on a wild pitch during Jason Thurman’s at bat.
Thurman went on to walk before Jordyn Gerdes struck out looking to end the fourth.
The Bloodhounds shut down Burlington to start the fifth before the bats came alive. Junior Reed Fehseke reached on an error by the Grayhound second baseman before Brandon Reichelt followed with a single. Vasin Thurman then walked to load the bases with no outs.
Burgher wasted no time the next at bat, sending the first pitch to left field for an RBI single. Williams collected another double after, but Reichelt was pegged at the plate on a stellar throw from the centerfield for the force out.
Johnson popped one up on the infield on a 2-1 count for the second out of the inning with the bases still loaded. With the top of the lineup coming back to the plate, Cordray hit a hard line drive to left field for a bases clearing double, bringing Fort Madison to within 9-5.
The boost in moral was short lived however, as Burlington strung together a double and a single to start the sixth, advancing the lead to 10-5. The Bloodhounds collected back-to-back outs before an error allowed a second run to score, putting the Grayhound lead at 11-5.
Gerdes responded for Fort Madison in the bottom of the sixth, starting the home half of the inning off with a double. Fehseke followed with a single, putting runners on the corners for the Hounds with no outs. The next two batters went down on strikes before Burgher regrouped the offense with a single, bringing in Gerdes for the final run of the game.
Gerdes stroked a single in the bottom of the seventh for the lone hit between the two teams in the inning, as Burlington went on to win by the final of 11-7.
Gerdes was saddled with the loss for the Bloodhounds, tossing 3 2/3 innings on 76 pitches. Gerdes struck out three and allowed seven hits for nine earned runs.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Burlington, they put some balls in play,” Walker said. “They hit some line drives down the hole, that’s just part of the game.
“We won the last four innings of the baseball game. That’s all we try to do is win one inning at a time, one pitch at a time and pretty soon it’s a W. We’ll take the positives and we’ve got a little bit of energy going into this next game.”
That energy was in full effect during game two, especially in the bottom of the third inning.
Cordray’s pitching was dominate in game two, recording six strikeouts through three innings. The help from the mound allowed Fort Madison to grab a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. Vasin Thurman started the inning off with a walk. Williams also drew a walk putting runners on first and second for Fehseke.
Fehseke delivered with a single, loading the bases for Johnson. Johnson singled, bringing in Vasin Thurman for the first run of the game. Back-to-back outs on the Hounds ended the second, but Fort Madison now had its first lead in a game on the season.
After Burlington’s Jacob Hardy started out the third with a line out, Taylor Bunton brought the heart of the Grayhounds order back to the plate, collecting a double. Drake Parks followed with a single, scoring Bunton and tying the game at one. Burlington strung together a single and a walk, but again Cordray got his team out of the jam with strikeouts, leaving the game knotted at one heading into the bottom of the third.
That’s when Fort Madison had its biggest inning of the season and one that will be hard to replicate again.
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On a 1-2 pitch, Gerdes started the inning by sending a home run over the center field fence, putting Fort Madison back in the driver’s seat with a 2-1 lead.
“That was big,” Walker said. “Jordyn got fooled on a breaking ball for strike one. He stayed in there and battled. He had a nice approach with two strikes and delivered. That’s a great at bat, you have to tip your hat to him. That started a big inning for us.”
Reichelt followed the Hounds first home run of the season with a walk, before Vasin Thurman went down on strikes.
With Reichelt on first, Burlington pitcher Jacob Zahner walked the next three Bloodhound batters, sending another run across the plate for a 3-1 lead. Zahner regrouped, striking out Johnson with the bases loaded, but fellow pitcher Cordray came to the plate and was hit by a pitch with a full count, bringing another run across for a 4-1 lead.
Zahner’s troubles continued past Cordray, as he went on to walk Jason Thurman for a 5-1 Fort Madison lead, before Gerdes came back to the plate with the Hounds having batted all the way around the order.
Gerdes didn’t replicate his home run from earlier in the inning, but he did hit a single that brought in Fehseke and Cordray, stretching the lead to 7-1. Fort Madison wasn’t done there. Reichelt came to the dish with two men on. He started the count with two straight strikes, before sending a moon shot over the center field fence and on top of Fort Madison High School.
Vasin Thurman and Burgher followed the home run with back-to-back singles, but the inning ended with a flyout to center field. Altogether the Bloodhounds collected nine runs in the inning.
“We don’t talk about scoring runs, we talk about taking at bats,” Walker said. “They took their at bats, saw some pitches and competed and strung it together. We keep stringing together at bats and winning one pitch at a time, we’re gonna put some W’s up.”
Two groundouts and a pop out put a quick end to Burlington’s top of the fourth inning. Outside of Fehseke starting the bottom of the fourth with a double, the inning was uneventful for the Hounds, as the next three batters went down in order.
With the rain starting to intensify, Cordray started the top of the fifth with back-to-back outs. Brock Dengler kept the inning alive for Burlington, hitting a fly ball to right field for a double. Owen Fawcett would have marked the third out of the inning, but an error in center field allowed Fawcett’s fly ball to drop and score Dengler to cut the lead to 10-2.
Fort Madison came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning, as three straight batters were sat down on strikeouts. At that point, umpires and coach’s met near centerfield and decided to call the game off for the night with the wet conditions and the clock nearing 10 P.M.
“It’s good to come out and play some competitive baseball against a good Burlington school,” Walker said. “They are going to be joining our conference next year, so that just shows there is another team in the conference we can compete with.
“If the kids take pride and play the game the right way, baseball is a fun game, and they could have a good season.”
Gerdes and Reichelt led the way for Fort Madison with three RBIs each. Assuming the game will eventually come to be final, Cordray will pick up the win in his 4 2/3 innings pitched, giving up five hits and just one earned run while striking out seven.
Fort Madison’s next game is Wednesday at West Burlington.