BY ETHAN LILLARD
MT. PLEASANT – Having baseball practice in a Shopko parking lot isn’t the ideal situation, but when every other piece of ground is submerged by water, you don’t really have a choice.
The unconventional parking lot session paid dividends, helping the Hounds prepare for Southeast conference foe Mt. Pleasant, as the Hounds headed to Maple Leaf Sport Complex Thursday to take on the Panthers.
Despite owning the lead for six innings in game one, Fort Madison allowed Mt. Pleasant to score two runs in the inning that mattered, as the Panthers walked off for the 3-2 win. The Bloodhounds regrouped for game two and won 5-2 to split the doubleheader and move to 3-2 on the year.
“Our practices have been pretty limited,” Walker said. “Last night we actually practiced in the Shopko parking lot just so we could get outside on some dry land. Unfortunately, we didn’t do a whole lot of sliding and base running on the asphalt.”
Jordan Gerdes drew the start for Fort Madison in game one. Much like his appearance during the season opener, Gerdes pounded the zone and forced hitters into contact. This time though, the batters weren’t able to find the gaps like Burlington did in the opener.
Through his first four innings of work, Gerdes never saw more than four batters in an inning. He issued one hit in the first, one walk in the second, one hit in the third and a walk in the fourth for the only Mt. Pleasant base runners. The fifth inning is when Gerdes hit his first snag.
With the No. 8 and 9 hitters coming to the plate, it was an ideal situation for Gerdes to get to the top of the Mt. Pleasant lineup with a potential two outs. The Panthers’ Chase Williamson had other plans, hitting a one-out single that brought Corbin Broeker to the plate back at the top of the lineup.
Broeker singled and a walk to Clayton Lowery loaded the bases for Mount Pleasant.
In what would be the theme for run scoring throughout the night, Williamson came around to score on a wild pitch during Jaxon Hoyle’s at bat for the Panthers’ first run of the game. It was at that point Fort Madison Head Coach Ron Walker decided to make the pitching change to Jason Thurman.
“Jordyn did a great job of coming out and setting the tone,” Walker said. “He got a lot of ground balls and pitched to contact. The defense came through and made the plays for the first five innings.
“Tip your hat to (Gerdes), his pitch count got up there a little bit, fatigue started setting in. He gave us a chance to win and left with the lead and that’s all we can ask for. He did a great job.”
The Hounds went three up three down in the top of the sixth inning, before Mt. Pleasant went down to end the inning on just four batters.
Fort Madison gave itself an opportunity to pad the lead in the top of the seventh with the bases loaded, but Hoyle came through with a timely strikeout of Gerdes to put an end to the threat.
Back-to-back singles to start the home half of the seventh spelled disaster for the Hounds, as Williamson reached in the No. 9 hole, before Broeker followed with a single of his own putting runners at first and second.
Landis Williams had been playing phenomenal behind the plate for Fort Madison, stopping every ball in the dirt that came his way. It was one throwing error, however, that gave the Panthers the lead. On a pitch from Thurman, Williams tried to catch Broeker napping at first and threw down to Vasin Thurman. The ball got away and Williamson came in to score from second, while Broeker made it all the way to third. From there, Lowery delivered with a bloop single to center field, scoring Broeker for the walk off 3-2 win.
“Landis is one of the smartest ball players on our team,” Walker said. “He will learn from it. We talked about it. The tying run is 180 feet away from the plate, winning run is 270, so lets keep them right there. His effort is 150%, that won’t happen again I can all but assure that, he is a great ball player.”
While the second game of the double header yielded a higher run total, things didn’t get interesting until the fifth inning, with senior Dayne Cordray having another sensational performance on the bump for the Hounds.
Through four innings Cordray didn’t surrender a single earned hit and issued just four walks. Much like his Gerdes’ night on the mound, Cordray’s first issues came in the fifth inning.
It was something about Mt. Pleasant starting the inning with the nine hitter that worked, as Williamson again instigated the run scoring, reaching base safely on a Hound fielding error.
Another error allowed Williamson to move to second before Broeker laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Williamson to third. Nik Coble did the rest, coming through with an RBI single to score the first run of the game and give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
Things could have been worse for Fort Madison had it not been for Thurman coming on with timely relief once again. With the bases loaded and two outs, Thurman came on for Cordray and delivered by striking out Chase Lamm to end the threat.
“Jason is a great weapon to bring in after Jordyn and Dayne,” Walker said. “Jordan and Dayne have a little bit of velocity. Jason is good at locating pitches, keeps you off balance, has a great pick move that keeps runners off balance … We have a lot of confidence in Jason late in the game.”
Thurman was able to hold onto the lead the final two innings thanks to some heads up base running from the Bloodhounds. Gerdes singled to begin the top of the sixth inning. Walker had been giving Gerdes a pinch runner every other time he reached base, but this time, Walker left his senior on the base paths.
It’s a good thing he did.
The next at bat, Gerdes advanced to second on a wild pitch on a 2-0 count, before moving to third one pitch later on another ball that got past the Mt. Pleasant catcher. Cordray came through with the walk, before Vasin Thurman grounded out the following at bat, moving Cordray to second in the process.
Williams then walked to load the bases as Lowery started losing control. Matt Hopper came in to pinch hit in hopes he would be able to lay down a bunt and move the runners. Walker didn’t need to worry about scoring runs that way, as Panther pitching again helped out the Bloodhounds’ cause.
Gerdes came in to steal home on another past ball, tying the game at one. Mt. Pleasant made a pitching change to Hoyle, but the Panther’s catcher still couldn’t find the handle and a past ball allowed Cordray to score, moving Williams to second. Williams was then able to advance to third on another errant pitch before Hopper went down on strikes for out No. 2.
Reed Fehseke came to the plate next, but again didn’t even need to swing the bat for Fort Madison to score, as another ball got past the catcher, allowing Williams to score for the 3-1 lead
Trace White got on base to start the bottom of the sixth off an error, before Bender grounded out, moving White to second. Williamson then delivered with an RBI single, cutting the lead to 3-2. Thurman was able to navigate his way through the rest of the frame to maintain the 1-run lead.
Kane Williams walked to start the final inning, before Jason Thurman was also issued a walk. Gerdes then singled, loading the bases for Cordray. Cordray worked the count full before collecting a walk, bringing in Williams to extend the lead to 4-2.
Vasin Thurman came through at No. 5, singling to center field to bring in twin brother Jason Thurman for the 5-2 lead. The Hounds’ threat was ended after Mt. Pleasant collected back-to-back outs.
In the bottom half, Thurman got Lowery to ground out, Hoyle collected a walk. Bryce Anderson then flew out for the second out, but a double from Lamm put two runners on with White coming to the plate as the tying run.
As Thurman had done throughout the night, he got out of the jam, forcing White to groundout and give Fort Madison the 5-2 win.
“The defense made the plays,” Walker said. “Tall grass, wind blowing in tonight, air was heavy, so a three-run lead is a lot going into the seventh inning when the defense is making plays.”
Cordray threw 84 pitches for 4 2/3 innings, allowing just two hits and no earned runs. Thurman came on in releif for 2 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and no earned runs.