BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MT. PLEASANT – There were fireworks of sorts at the MapleLeaf Complex on Thursday night. Bang-bangs were going off outside in the neighborhoods and inside on the Mt. Pleasant Panthers’ baseball diamond.
About a dozen challenged rulings, argued calls, and bang-bang plays on the base paths highlighted a 4-1, 8-5 sweep of the Fort Madison Bloodhounds by the Panthers leaving the Hounds now in a dog fight for the Southeast Iowa Conference title.
With just two more games left for the Hounds in conference play, a double header with Burlington at home Monday night, Fort Madison finds itself now in a tie with the Panthers, both at 6-2 in the conference. Burlington is 3-1 in loop play and Washington is 4-3 after sweeping Fairfield Thursday night.
“There’s still a lot to play for,” Head Coach Ron Walker said after Thursday’s losses. “We’re still right there, we control our own destiny.”
In the nightcap, the Panthers got on the board first in the top of the third. The Panthers were the visiting team because the games were scheduled for Fort Madison, but had to be moved to Mt. Pleasant after about an hour of rain pounded the FMHS field.
Sophomore Reiburn Turnbull gave a walk and then an RBI double to center by the Panthers’ Corbin Broeker to start the inning for Fort Madison. Rylan Seberg would send a sacrifice fly to center scoring Corbin Broeker before Turnbull would get a strikeout and Landon Williams would layout and make a diving catch of a fly ball to left to close out the inning.
Fort Madison would get on the board in the bottom half of the third. With two outs, Jason Thurman lined to center and would steal second on Jaxon Hoyle’s second pitch. Hoyle would then try to catch Thurman on a pick off at second, but the throw would go into the outfield and Thurman headed for third. The throw to third was in front of Thurman, but got past the Panthers’ defense and into the dugout for a free pass to home.
The Panthers would get another run in the third when Jack Johnson singled to center scoring Hoyle from second. Turnbull would plunk the next hitter, but got Broeker to fly out to Williams for the third out.
Fort Madison would go in order in its half of four, and Turnbull would get out unscathed in the fifth. The Hounds again couldn’t get a base runner in the fifth and Mt. Pleasant would blow things open in the sixth with four runs.
With one out and two on, Jason Thurman, who’d come on in relief of Turnbull, surrendered back-to-back hits with the second being a 2 RBI double by Chase Williams to right. Thurman would get the next hitter, but then gave up a walk to Seberg and another double to Clayton Lowery to left center for a 7-1 lead.
The Hounds started with a bang in the bottom of the sixth with five straight hits from Thurman, Brandon Reichelt, Vasin Thurman, Tate Johnson, and Turnbull. Vasin Thurman doubled in two runs and then Turnbull brought Vasin Thurman around to score with a single to right for a 7-4 game.
Tate Johnson then tripled on a liner to center that skipped over the glove of a diving Williamson. Turnbull came around to score on the play, but was ruled out for not touching home plate on an appeal from the Panthers for the first out.
With the speedy Johnson at third, Walker called for the squeeze and Kane Williams sent a nifty bunt down third that Broeker fielded coming off the mound and flipped to the catcher in time to get Johnson on the head first slide at the plate.
Broeker would coax a ground out from Jace Burgher for the third out with Fort Madison down 7-4.
Mt. Pleasant would tack on another run in the top of the 7th and Fort Madison would go back to work in the bottom trailing 8-4.
Garrett Hannum beat out an infield hit to second and Landes Williams singled to left. Jason Thurman would then lace the first pitch he saw into the right center gap scoring Hannum from second with no outs. But Reichelt would fly out to left and Vasin Thurman would hit into a force at second moving Williams to third. Reiburn Turnbull, representing the tying run, would ground out to short to end the game.
Walker said he was proud of how the kids played through the distractions on and off the field, and having the game moved from Fort Madison.
“We had to play through it. We got down 7-1 and then fought back to 7-4 and had a couple things that didn’t go our way, but we went back out in the 7th down four and put together some at bats,” he said.
“We were in a position to win it at the end.”
He said the squeeze was a called play because the Hounds had success bunting against the Panthers during their last visit to the MapleLeaf complex in June.
“The first time up here we had five bunt base hits in the seventh inning and they couldn’t defend them. Tate does a great job reading down angle and got a perfect read,” Walker said.
“Can’t fault the effort tonight. They played hard and you know a couple plays we’ve been making don’t go our way, but it doesn’t change the ball game.”
Thurman went 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI and two runs scored to lead Fort Madison in the second game. Turnbull was 2-for-4 with an RBI. Johnson, Reichelt, Landes Williams, and Hannum all had hits for the Hounds.
In the opener Fort Madison didn’t get on the board until the sixth inning down 2-0. Colten Engman, courtesy running for Reichelt who doubled to center to start the inning, would come around to score on a Vasin Thurman sac fly to right. Turnbull would ground out and Johnson would fan to end the inning.
Mt. Pleasant would put up two more in the top of the 7th with two outs. Broeker hit a grounder to third and Vasin Thurman threw low to Reichelt at first and the throw went to the fence allowing two runs to score. Williamson was thrown out at the plate trying to score all the way from first on the error.
The Hounds would go down 1-2-3 in the bottom half for the 4-1 loss.
Landes Williams went 6 2/3 suffering the loss, giving up four runs, two earned on five hits while striking out two. Jason Thurman came on in relief and gave up one hit in 1/3 of an inning.
“I’m very proud of the kids tonight. They faced a lot of adversity and a lot of distractions,” Walker said. “I thought they did a good job of keeping their emotions in check for the most part.”