BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
BURLINGTON – Despite losing two close games and letting the Southeast Conference title slip away, Fort Madison Head Coach Ron Walker said he’s happy with the Hounds effort in a 4-2, 2-1 sweep at the hands of the Burlington Grayhounds Monday night.
Although the scores show a couple of tight baseball games at Community Field, it seemed like the Fort Madison Bloodhounds couldn’t ever get any momentum going until the final innings of both games.
In the opener, Burlington jumped out to a 3-0 lead after three innings. Sophomore Mateo Rascon hit a sacrifice fly to Fort Madison centerfielder Tate Johnson scoring Brendon Hale from third for a first inning 1-0 lead.
Jake Zahner was dealing for the Grayhounds and struck out five of the first six batters he faced, four swinging.
In the top of the third Aidan Pennock took a pitch between his shoulder blades for Fort Madison’s first base runner. Kane Williams moved him over with a bunt and then Landes Williams singled to right to put runners at 1st and 3rd with two outs. Walker put the hit-and-run on, and Jason Thurman hit a bouncer up the middle that Rascon was able to back hand on the run and throw Thurman out at first.
“Jason did an excellent job of executing that, but they made a great play up the middle or that would have been a run scored,” Walker said.
Juan Reyes would hit a one-out single to deep shortstop and then Taylor Bunton would double to left center to score Reyes for a 4-0 lead. Kane Williams would get the next two outs to retire the side.
After each side went 1-2-3 in the fifth, Landes Williams opened the sixth with a single followed by Jason Thurman’s RBI double to right field to cut the lead to 4-1
Vasin Thurman and Reiburn Turnbull would both record outs and then Tate Johnson would lace a liner down the right field line scoring Thurman. Juan Reyes was shading Johnson a bit to the foul line and ran the ball down in a hurry and then fire to second to get Johnson trying to stretch a double.
Williams again would get the Grayhounds in order in the bottom half. The Bloodhounds would start the top of the 7th with a couple swinging strikeouts. Pennock would get on with an error at first, but a Zahner strike out would wrap things up.
Landes Williams had two hits to lead Fort Madison at the plate. Jason and Vasin Thurman each had hits and Johnson had the other hit. Kane Williams went the distance giving up eight hits and four runs, all earned while striking out two and walking one.
In the nightcap, Reyes held the Bloodhounds to just three hits and no runs through six innings, but the Hounds made a run of things in the seventh.
Johnson grounded out to open the top of the frame. Reiburn Turnbull walked and then Garrett Hannum, who had two of the Hounds hits in the nightcap, doubled moving Turnbull to third.
Colton Engeman would then score Turnbull on a fielder’s choice ground out to second for the second out, but Hannum advanced to third representing the tying run. Reyes, who struck out eight going the distance, got Pennock swinging to end the game.
Landes Williams went 4 1/3 and give up both runs one earned on five hits. Jason Thurman came on in relief in the fifth and gave up two hits while striking out two.
Walker said he wasn’t surprised by anything that the Grayhounds did, and was happy with how the Bloodhounds competed.
“Nothing surprised tonight. I told the kids at (batting practice) today and again tonight after the first game that it didn’t matter if we came out and lost game 1 or got swept or won both,” Walker said. “What matters is how we play and how we compete. I’m real happy. I told the kids to keep their heads up.”
Walker said Fort Madison has had really close games with some of the best teams in the state losing all 6 games by a total of 12 runs.
“Those are good losses. Losses aren’t fun, but they are part of the game and very few teams run the table in the baseball season at any level. We played hard and competed against a two big arms and great ball club. We came out and competed. We’re shooting for the end of the year here.”
The Bloodhounds take on Van Buren at 7 p.m. in Fort Madison Tuesday. The game scheduled with New London has been canceled for Wednesday. Then the Hounds wrap up the regular season next week with two games at Keokuk on July 12, and two games at (19-10) Muscatine on the 13th.
Class 3A Regional action starts on Friday, July 16 with a team to be named later. The Hounds will likely get Central DeWitt, Keokuk, or Mt. Pleasant in a first round game most likely in Fort Madison starting at 7 p.m. But those details have not been finalized by the IHSAA as of Monday.