Five innings of sound baseball gave the Lawrence Raiders a chance to beat the Rawlings Wichita Reds-James on Sunday morning, but a sudden plunge in the bottom of the sixth inning cost the Raiders in a 4-2 youth baseball loss at Free State High.
Trying to wrap up its four-day run at the Jayhawk Classic showcase without a setback, Lawrence capitalized on four competitive innings from starting pitcher Brandon Bell and some impressive defensive plays before an abrupt downswing in the sixth. That’s when the Reds’ John Gardner knocked a one-out double to left field off Raiders reliever CJ Stuever to set off a game-altering, three-run inning.
Stuever struck out Tyler Palmore for the second out, but then Max Moxley drilled a ground ball at Lawrence third baseman Ryan Stagg, who made a terrific snag. But Stagg lost his grip on the ball while throwing to first, and Moxley reached on the error. Stuever walked Daniel Meitzner to load the bases, and Alex Miller sneaked a single over the right side of the infield to score two runs and give Wichita a 3-1 lead, its first of the game.
Meitzner then scored on a passed ball, giving the Reds a 4-1 advantage.
Earlier, Stagg made a great grab and throw to rob Blake Meirer of a potential extra-base hit; right fielder Stuever caught a Josh Farrington fly ball and threw home to catcher Drew Green, who tagged out Kier Stamp at the plate for a double play; and Bell allowed one run in four innings.
For Raiders coach Brad Romme, that made the blip that was the sixth inning all the more surprising.
“We were as solid as we could be for five innings,” Romme said, “but we’ve gotta learn how to play seven.”
After the Reds went ahead, Lawrence (8-6-1) put together a small rally in the top of the seventh. Ryan Cantrell led off with a walk, Briggs Fish singled to left field, and Adam Rea turned a high, spinning chopper into an infield single to load the bases with no outs.
Stuever drove Cantrell in with a grounder up the middle, but the Reds turned it into a double play, and their starting pitcher, Miller, earned a complete-game win by retiring Kieran Severa on a line drive to left field.
Stuever gave the Reds credit for capitalizing at just the right moments: “That’s how you win baseball games — take advantage of the mistakes the other team makes. They got three runs that sixth inning.”
The Raiders, who went 2-1-1 at the Jayhawk Classic, failed to produce an extra-base hit in their only loss at the showcase and finished with just seven singles after scoring 19 runs in their previous three games.
Lee McMahon, who went 2-for-3 against the Reds and drove in Shane Willoughby with a first-inning single for a 1-0 lead, said Miller began mixing in a good change-up late.
“The spin looked exactly like the fastball, so it was pretty hard to pick up,” McMahon said. “I think that might have thrown us off-kilter a little bit. Other than that, we were having a great time on the field, a great time in the dugout, just couldn’t really string anything together.”
Romme said pop-ups had become an issue earlier in the summer season for the Raiders, and he didn’t mind seeing eight of his team’s outs come on grounders up the middle Sunday.
“I don’t know offensively if it was as bad as it may have seemed or looked,” the coach said, “’cause a lot of those are gonna flatten out and be line drives. I’m OK with hard ground balls in the middle (of the field).”
The Raiders finished the weekend disappointed, Stuever said, but optimistic about the gains they made the past few days.
“Hopefully we can get some kids in some grooves,” Stuever said, “and win some baseball games.”
The Raiders will play host to Next Level Baseball at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Free State.
Lawrence Raiders 100 000 1 — 2 7 1
Wichita Reds-James 000 103 x — 4 8 0
W — Alex Miller. L — CJ Stuever.
2B — John Gardner, Wichita. 3B — Bryce Fischer, Wichita.
Raiders highlights — Brandon Bell, 4 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 R; Lee McMahon, 2-for-3, RBI; Shane Willoughby, 1-for-2, R; Drew Green, 1-for-3; Briggs Fish, 1-for-3; Stuever, 1-for-4, RBI; Adam Rea, 1-for-1.
Next for Raiders: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday vs. Next Level Baseball at Free State High.