BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It’s been a while since people were talking about Fort Madison’s baseball program being at the top of the conference. But after Thursdays 8-0, 15-0 drubbing of Keokuk, the Hounds have placed themselves in that discussion.
“I have no idea. I have no idea on that,” said Head Coach Ron Walker with a smile after the sweep.
Fort Madison is 6-1 and 4-0 in the Southeast Conference as of Friday morning. Their only loss was a season-opening loss to Mt. Pleasant on the road that didn’t count in conference action due to the constricted schedule in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
In Walker’s first year the Hounds went 16-15, but just 6-10 in conference play.
In the opener Thursday, Matt Hopper took to the mound and held the Chiefs scoreless while giving up six hits and a couple walks while getting four Chiefs to fan.
Vasin Thurman would open the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the first with Brandon Reichelt and Jason Thurman on. Thurman would score and Reichelt would be held at 1st. Reiburn Turnbull would then hit a grounder back up the middle that was misplayed by Chief’s pitcher Cole Gillenwater moving Reichelt up.
Two more errors plated Reichelt and Turnbull and the Hounds were up 3-0. In the bottom of the third, Reichelt singled to right scoring Jason Thurman who had just doubled. Two outs later Kane Williams would single to center scoring Reichelt for a 5-0 lead at the end of three.
Hopper gave up a walk and a single to start the fourth, but the Hounds would get the next three to get out of the inning unscathed.
Fort Madison opened the bottom of the fifth with three singles and then Williams took a pitch off the helmet to force in another run. Jace Burgher would sacrifice to left scoring Turnbull for 7-0 lead, but Fort Madison would strand three when Jason Thurman grounded into a fielder’s choice at third.
Reichelt would clean things up in the 8th with a blast that cleared the right field fence down the line to set the final score at 8-0. Vasin Thurman would come on in the 7th in relief of Hopper and retire the side in order.
Reichelt went 3-4 with 2 RBI and three runs scored. Vasin Thurman was 2-2 with a RBI and run for Fort Madison. Andrew Seabold had two hits for Keokuk.
In the nightcap. Turnbull went three innings in the four-inning affair giving up three hits, no walks and recording two strikeouts. Garrett Hannum pitched the fourth and allowed one walk and no hits.
Landes Williams led Fort Madison with two hits and two runs scored. Colten Engeman, Kane Williams, Reichelt, Burgher, Jason Thurman, Vasin Thurman, and Turnbull all had singles for the Hounds.
Reichelt, who finished the game with 3 RBI, had a two-run single to highlight a 10-run third inning that put the game out of reach for Keokuk.
“Last year (Coach Walker) gave us his plan and not all of us were into that plan. And now in the second year, we’re buying into the plan and thing are going well,” Reichelt said.
Walker said the kids are just playing the game the right way.
“Trying to get kids in 2020 to play hard as a team and a program isn’t easy. But these kids have bought in and they do a great job of it,” Walker said.
The Hounds pitching has been a pleasant surprise considering the Hounds have lost three arms that would probably have been the top three in the rotation.
“We lost three we were planning on having that could have been the one-two-three. One kid didn’t come out, Jace dislocated his shoulder, and Brandon is under doctor’s orders not to throw,” Walker said.
The Hounds are also playing clean baseball with just three errors in seven games.
“We work a lot on fundamentals. We have dailies and throwing drills and work on the little things like footwork,” he said. “Their goal is to be in catch position when the ball is coming through the hitting zone.”
The Hounds face a tough cross-county rival in a rare 1 p.m. Friday start with Central Lee. The Hawks are 5-0 and are coming of a 2019 season where they advanced into the second round of the state tournament. Central Lee escaped with an 2-1 win over West Burlington late Thursday night.