FORT GIBSON — The question was worth an answer in a game featuring two unbeaten district co-leaders.
If you knew your 3-5 hitters in the lineup would come up empty, would it be cause for concern?
Weston Rouse was one of those batters, but as the Fort Gibson pitcher, he shook the question off with nonchalance and ease of having just completed both a beatdown of his team’s arch-rival.
“No, I have faith in my other guys. You’ll have off days at the plate — that’s baseball,” he said. “Three for 10 gets you in the Hall of Fame, so I knew my other guys would pick us up.”
Indeed on this day they did, and Rouse handled the mound duties, handcuffing Hilldale on two hits while striking out eight in a surprisingly lopsided 10-0 run-rule game called after five innings Monday at Carr-O’Dell Tiger Field.
Indeed, the other hitters made things happen, making Hilldale (14-4, 6-1 in 4A-6) pay for every near miss and mental flaw exhibited.
Cole Mahaney and Jaiden Graves, hitting 6-7 for Fort Gibson, were 2-for-3 to lead the way for the Tigers. Every other hitter outside the 3-5 spots had hits.
And they came in all kinds of ways.
Two infield rollers on the left side — Wyatt Pierce’s leadoff single and Cody Walkingstick’s groundout from the cleanup spot — gave the Tigers (19-1, 7-0) a 1-0 lead in the first and the start of a recurring pattern for a team now on an 11-game win streak.
In the second, three made contact on balls that either didn’t get out of the infield or barely —one being a foot pull error by Hilldale’s Rylan Nail at first on Graves’ grounder to third, another on Grant Edwards’ slow hopper that got out of second baseman Caden Thompson’s reach.
Edwards’ came with the bases loaded and plated two runs.
Then, Jaxon Blunt’s line shot over second base and into center plated Mahaney — who beat out an infield grounder — and Graves.
Fort Gibson found itself up 5-0.
In the third, it was a wider use of the field.
Graves hit a bouncer off the wall in left center, then Landon Nail singled to center for a 6-0 Tiger lead.
After going in order in the fourth, they finished it in the fifth, and the 3-5, up to handle it after going 0-for-9 at that point, didn’t need to swing a bat to do it.
First, Mahaney doubled, stole third and took home on a wild pitch from Hornets pitcher Evan Smith, who retired Graves on an infield liner and Nail on a bunt back to him. But the right-hander then walked Blunt and Pierce to put two on.
Austin Fletcher replaced Smith in relief and Grant Edwards greeted him with a bunt single to load the bases. Then came Rouse, the three-hole hitter, who drew a walk to force in a run. At third by now, Pierce caught Hilldale’s battery flat-footed as he broke for home and took it, getting there as the throw deflected off catcher Joey Myers’ glove to make it 9-0.
Cleanup hitter Walkingstick drew a walk to reload the bases, then five-hole Brody Rainbolt walked in Edwards with the 10th run of the game.
“I’ll try to say this as nice as I can, but (Pierce’s steal of home) comes from not being engaged in the game because you’re getting your butt kicked,” a frustrated Hilldale coach Nathan Frisby said. “If that’s a 1-1 game that doesn’t happen. But regardless of the score, your kids need to be engaged and I’ll take the blame for that.
“It was a butt-kicking. That’s what it was. They capitalize on your mistakes. You make them, they’ll make you pay for them.”
And when your pitcher is chunking like the left-handed Rouse was, you won’t get many chances to play catch up.
“When he’s on, it’s hard to string a lot of hits off him and it sure makes you feel good playing behind him,” said Tigers coach Gary Edwards.
Only Smith, with a game-starting single, and Alex Rowland, with a single to center in the second inning, got hits off Rouse, who retired the last 10 batters he faced, seven on strikes. Frisby had moved Rowland to seventh in the lineup shuffle and Smith, who normally hits third, went to the leadoff spot.
“We may tweak some more for tomorrow,” said Frisby, whose team hosts Fort Gibson at 5 p.m. “Just trying to get the best nine-guy combination.”