By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — DES MOINES — The Ottumwa baseball team split games with CIML Metro Conference rival Des Moines Lincoln Monday. The Bulldogs suffered a 7-3 loss in game one, but they bounced back with a come-from-behind 6-5 victory in the nightcap.
"Game one was a game of missed opportunities," Ottumwa baseball coach John Jaeger said. "We gave them too many extra chances. We left too many guys stranded."
Still, Jaeger was pleased by his team's resiliency in game two.
"Game two was back and forth," Jaeger said.
The Bulldogs tacked on two runs in the top of the seventh to pick up the win. Curtis Schneckloth catalyzed the rally with a double start the inning. Chase Wood eventually singled him home tie the game at 5-5. Later, Brok Hopwood laid down suicide squeeze bunt that allowed Wood to hustle home from third to put Ottumwa out in front 6-5.
Steven Wilson got three-straight outs in the bottom of seventh to secure the save on the mound. Spencer Fuller got the win on after tossing the first six innings for the Bulldogs.
Sixth-rated Fairfield knocks off Ottumwa
Josh Allison would tell you for sure whether or not his Fairfield baseball team is worthy of being rated sixth in the state.
Allison would just like the Trojans to get some more games in first.
Having had four of their first eight games rained out this season, Fairfield’s busy first two weeks of the season have been anything but. The Trojans did get one of those rainouts made up on Friday, winning 6-1 at Ottumwa over a Bulldog team that was looking for a second-straight win over a rated opponent.
“Getting some of those rainouts early on in the season can be tough,” Allison said. “We’re just looking forward to some drier weather so we actually play some baseball.”
After losing late leads in three of their first four games, Ottumwa finally closed out their first win of the season on Wednesday at seventh-ranked (4A) Waukee. Clutch pitching by Steven Wilson, a two-run double by Chase Wood and a couple of clutch defensive plays late led the Bulldogs to a 2-1 road triumph over the Warriors.
The early-season offensive struggles of the Bulldogs were compounded on Friday by Fairfield’s Austin Gridley. The senior, making his first pitching start of the season for the Trojans, allowed just one run on three hits while striking out nine batters over six innings of work.
“I felt pretty good out there. I felt like I was in command,” Gridley said. “At the beginning, I had to find the release point (for the breaking ball). It was kind of hard to find, but I got it and I threw in the change up every once and a while.”
Ottumwa has now been held to two runs or less in five of their first six games. For Bulldog head coach John Jaeger, the early-season struggles aren’t necessarily the symptoms of a relatively young team.
“These guys have been playing baseball together for a long time. I’ve seen them play together and I know what they’re capable of,” Jaeger said. “We do have minimal experience at the varsity level. It’s just a matter of guys making the plays on a more consistent level.”
Gridley, one of the 11 upperclassmen on the Fairfield roster, helped his own case offensively by continuing a hot stretch of hitting to start the season. The .462 hitter and team leader with six hits in four games reached in each of his five plate appearances and finished the night 3-3 with a double.
“I actually just changed my swing. It took me a year to get used to it because my swing was too long,” Gridley said. “Now, it’s more short and compact. I’m just hitting the ball nice and hard trying to get the job done.”
Alex Christensen benefited the most from Gridley’s hot bat on Friday, running the base paths in four of the seven innings for Fairfield. It was Christensen that scored the first run of the night on a two-out RBI single by Cameron Baumann in the third.
“We’re a pretty good hitting ball team. We’re pretty aggressive at the plate,” Gridley said. “Some of our hitters have struggled at the plate, but they didn’t let it get them down. They just got right back up and kept swinging.”
Two-out hits made a big difference against the Bulldogs. Fairfield had 15 base runners reach base and had nine of their 11 hits one out from the end of an inning.
“It’d be so much nicer, as a coach, if you’re getting on with nobody out so you could do a little bit more,” Allison said. “Even though we had to wait most of the night for two-out hits, we were able to string a lot of them together. Hopefully, we can start stringing things together earlier in innings.”
Fairfield extended their 1-0 lead in the fourth with a long two-out rally that knocked out Ottumwa starting pitcher Brok Hopwood. Joseph Hieptas followed up a two-out drive to deep center by lead-off batter Jordan Reid with an RBI single to double Fairfield’s lead. Gridley’s second hit and back-to-back walks forced home another run.
“My frustration for the most part is that we gave Fairfield too many extra opportunities to score,” Jaeger said. “Our hitting wasn’t fantastic, but what really hurt us was giving up walks and allowing them more chances to hurt us with a big hit.”
Corey Ridgway seemed to give the Bulldogs a boost in the fifth, stealing home off of Gridley to pull Ottumwa within 3-1. The play allowed two more Bulldog runners to move into scoring position, but Gridley responded by striking out Chase Wood to end the threat.
“I’m kind of glad Ottumwa put a little bit of pressure on us,” Allison said. “Hopefully we can learn from that and learn that we’ve got to be playing hard the whole time.”
Fairfield put the game away in the sixth, scoring three times in a lengthy inning. Run-scoring hits by Baumann and pinch-hitter Cody Craff helped open a 6-1 lead for the sixth-ranked Trojans.
“We’ve had a lot of these guys that have been playing for us for a couple of years,” Allison said. “There’s only a couple of guys on our squad that don’t have a lot of varsity experience. We were hoping that experience would pay off and, so far this year, it has.”
Fairfield (4-1) made their long-awaited Southeast Conference opener against a Fort Madison team that battled the Trojans for the title last year and beat the Trojans in the Class 3A district finals. The Trojans also host a big non-conference area doubleheader Wednesday against Centerville.
“We’re just looking to keep on moving up,” Gridley said.
Ottumwa (1-5) also made their conference debut on Monday with a road CIML Metro matinee at Des Moines Lincoln. The Bulldogs are back in Metro action at Des Moines Hoover this evening at 5 p.m.
“We’ve got to minimize big innings and take advantage of opportunities at the plate,” Jaeger said. “We need to play 100 percent. Go all out and if you make an error, so be it. We just can’t be complacent out there.”
“I know that our guys can play hard. It’s a mystery why they are playing so complacent. Hopefully that will chance as we get into conference play.”
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No. 6 (3A) Fairfield 6, Ottumwa 1
Fairfield 001 203 0 — 6 11 0
Ottumwa 000 010 0 — 1 3 3
Fairfield battery — Austin Gridley (W, 1-0) (6IP, 3H, R, ER, 9K, BB, 3HBP) and Joseph Hietpas (IP, K), Chet Vogt catching.
2B — Gridley.
3B — Jordan Reid.
Hits — Gridley 3-3, Cameron Baumann 2-4, Narendra Martin 2-4, Hietpas 2-4, Cody Craff 1-1, Reid 1-5.
RBI — Baumann 2, Craff, Mason Ellis, Gridley.
Runs — Baumann, Alex Christensen, Kooper Dahlstrom, Hietpas, Justin Leonard, Reid.
Ottumwa battery — Brok Hopwood (L, 0-1) (3 2/3IP, 7H, 3R, 3ER, 5K, 2BB), Colby Wagner (1/3IP, BB) and Chase Wood (3IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 3K, 2BB, HBP), Luke McDonald and Hopwood catching.
Hits — Kurtis Rupe 1-2, Spencer Nelson 1-3, Aaron Roane 1-3.
Runs — Corey Ridgway.