By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — ALBIA – Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont entered Thursday night playing to protect their very thin lead at the top of the South Central Conference.
Little did the Rockets know just how much Albia had to play for.
“If we win these two games, no practice on Friday,” Blue Demon head coach Boyd Brittan exclaimed Thursday.
Albia played their role of spoiler to absolute perfection Thursday against the Rockets. Drew Schofield’s RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh lifted Albia to an opening-game 3-2 triumph over EBF, knocking the Rockets out of the lead in the SCC.
Albia wasn’t done yet. Bryce Leshen’s second-straight fourth inning two-run hit rallied the Blue Demons as the four-run frame held up as the difference in a 5-1 game-two win. The sweep shook up the SCC, rattled EBF and gave Brittan’s squad a much-deserved extended weekend to savor their success.
“They get the next three days off. That’s what I promised and that’s what they earned,” Brittan said.
Earned it they did. The Blue Demons looked like a much different team against the Rockets then the team that got swept in Eddyville 17 nights earlier by a combined score of 16-2, including a game-one 11-0 loss that ended early due to the mercy rule.
“I thought over there, (EBF) was really ready to play and we were not,” Brittan said. “It was really a mismatch. They put it right on us. Congratulations to them for that. (Thursday), I thought we were much more focused to be consistent on doing the things we needed to do to be successful.”
“The first time we played them, we weren’t mentally prepared,” Schofield added. “I think we came prepared and got the job done this time around.”
Schofield had the biggest hit of the opening game. Facing EBF’s ace pitcher, senior Christian Bambrook, the Albia junior outfielder began his night with a second-inning single before grounding out and striking out in his next two at-bats.
After one-out singles by Austin Luse and Griffin Osing set the table for Albia to win game one in the seventh, Schofield watched as Bambrook recorded his eighth strikeout against Bryce Leshen to move within one out of extra innings. Schofield didn’t want to wait any longer, however, hitting a sharp grounder past Rocket first baseman Levi Johnston just down the right field line for the winning hit.
“I went 0-3 the first time I faced (Bambrook), but I picked up on the fact he likes to throw fastballs,” Schofield said. “If it was close to the strike zone, I knew it might be the best pitch I was going to get to swing at. I thought it might go foul and once I saw it was staying fair, I thought (Johnston) might make a good play on it. Once I saw it got through, I was just really excited.”
Leshen may not have come through in the seventh inning of game one. That didn’t mean the sophomore wouldn’t play a huge role in the Albia sweep. After striking out in his first opportunity, with the bases loaded and two outs in the third, Leshen made the most of a second chance against Bambrook by drilling a two-out go-ahead two-run single into right center field.
“I kind of knew what it was going to be like against (Bambrook), so I just stayed back and waited for my pitch to drive,” Leshen said. “Bambrook’s one of the best pitchers around, but I felt confident in what I could do against him.”
It would be the first of two go-ahead hits for the younger Leshen, who would drive in older brother Brett both times. The second two-run hit came in the fourth inning of game two, with EBF again up 1-0, and started the biggest rally of the night as the Blue Demons batted around against Rocket game-two starting pitcher Trevor Swartz.
“We had a tough time last weekend at the Saydel Tournament, so we made some lineup changes and decided to put Bryce in there,” Brittan said. “The young man has really stepped up for us. He had two huge go-ahead hits for us in both games.”
The losses at Albia completely changed the position of the top two teams in the SCC from the start of play on Thursday. After starting the day up a game on No. 8 (3A) Chariton, EBF (19-9, 12-4) would have lost their lead completely without the Chargers even taking the field.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, Chariton not only played but thrived on Thursday. The eighth-ranked Chargers swept a doubleheader of their own against Centerville, beating the third team in the SCC race 18-4 and 7-6 to take a one-game lead on the Rockets and two-game advantage in the loss column.
“We’ve been struggling at the plate for about a week-and-a-half now, but I thought these were two games that were winnable for us,” EBF head baseball coach Rod Ashman said. “’We’ve got four losses in the conference now. We’re not completely out of it, but we’ve got a tough week ahead.”
The Rockets will look to get some momentum back this weekend at Grinnell’s "Tiger" Tournament before facing back-to-back nights of pivotal conference clashes. EBF will travel to No. 8 Chariton (24-2, 12-2) Tuesday afternoon for a doubleheader at 3:30 p.m. after the Chargers face Clarke Monday.
Centerville (15-11, 9-5) will be hoping for some help from the Rockets. After facing Ottumwa Saturday night in a makeup JV/varsity doubleheader at 5 p.m., the Big Reds head to Davis County Tuesday before traveling to face the Rockets in Eddyville on Wednesday in back-to-back SCC doubleheaders.
“We’re probably going to have win two at Chariton and two against Centerville if we want to win this conference,” Ashman said.
Albia (16-13, 10-8) is off until playing two games at Keokuk on Wednesday. The Blue Demons then host Knoxville next weekend.
“I guess we helped those guys out in Lucas County,” Brittan joked after Thursday’s game. “Hey guys in Lucas County. You guys owe us one.”
Albia may look to collect on July 9 when the Chargers play the Blue Demons in Albia in a doubleheader that may decide the SCC title.
Albia 3, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont 2
EBF 001 001 0 — 2 8 1
Albia 000 020 1 — 3 13 0
EBF battery — Christian Bambrook (L, 5-3) (6 2/3IP, 13H, 3R, 3ER, 8K, BB), Chance Wursta catching.
2B — Lewie Winkleman.
Hits — Jevin Jensen 2-3, Bambrook 1-3, Cole Maines 1-3, Winkleman 1-3, Wursta 1-3, Cory Archer 1-4, Jeren Glosser 1-4.
RBI — Bambrook, Winkleman.
Runs — Glosser, Jackson Voyles.
Albia battery — Ethan Gray (5IP, 5H, R, ER, 4K) and Victor Sanders (W, 4-2) (2IP, 3H, R, ER), Gabe Gravert catching.
2B — Austin O’Leary.
Hits — Brett Leshen 3-4, Austin Luse 3-4, Gray 2-4, Drew Schofield 2-4, O’Leary 1-3, Griffin Osing 1-3, Bryce Leshen 1-4.
RBI — Bry. Leshen 2, Schofield.
Runs — Luse 2, Bre. Leshen.
Albia 5, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont 1
EBF 100 000 0 — 1 4 3
Albia 000 401 x — 5 9 1
EBF battery — Trevor Swartz (L, 5-3) (5 1/3IP, 8H, 5R, 4ER, 3K, BB) and Levi Johnston (2/3IP), Chance Wursta catching.
Hits — Cory Archer 1-3, Christian Bambrook 1-3, Wursta 1-3, Jeren Glosser 1-4.
RBI — Wursta.
Runs — Archer.
Albia battery — Brett Leshen (W, 2-1) (4IP, 3H, R, ER, 2K, BB, HBP) and Victor Sanders (S, 3) (3IP, H, K), Gabe Gravert catching.
Hits — Bryce Leshen 2-3, Gravert 2-4, Bre. Leshen 2-4, Austin Luse 1-3, Griffin Osing 1-3, Sanders 1-3.
RBI — Bry. Leshen 2, Gray, Drew Schofield.
Runs — Bre. Leshen, Bry. Leshen, Luse, O’Leary, Osing.