By Zach James Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — FULTON, Ill. — Fulton knew it had its hands full heading into Friday’s baseball game against Hall. After all, the Red Devils entered the game with an 8-1 record, and they had momentum after blanking Rockridge the day before.
Fulton fell to Hall 5-2 on Friday, and both Fulton runs came on back-to-back hits from Paul Velasco and Devon Ballard. However, the Red Devils dropped three separate squeeze plays to force pressure on a young Fulton defense.
“They did the little things right,” Fulton coach Kyle Miller said. “It’s hard to defend against their bunts, especially the last two they placed down the first-base line. Good teams do that, and they had great execution.
Hall placed eight runners on base despite recording just two hits. One of the hits was a home run in the fourth inning from shortstop Miguel Villareal off Fulton pitcher Jack Lemke.
“He threw well for us,” Miller said. “He is a sophomore with a senior’s mentality. When I went for a mound visit, he even admitted that the batter just made a good hit on the ball. He’s got great maturity.”
Lemke has gotten the ball against three of the tougher teams in the Three Rivers Conference, and Miller isn’t afraid to hand Lemke a tough assignment.
“Nothing fazes the kid,” Miller said. “He was able to keep us in the game after allowing the home run.”
Lemke lasted four innings on the hill, allowing two hits on two earned runs. Lemke also walked two and struck out four Red Devils. Lemke threw 68 pitches, and 37 of them were strikes.
Ballard and Seth Sanderson combined to finish the final three innings in relief. The two combined to force six groundouts.
On the offensive side for the Steamers, Ethan Jones started the fourth inning by reaching first base on an error, then Velasco brought in the Fulton shortstop on a double that reached the wall to right-center field.
Ballard hit a single down the left-field line that allowed Velasco to slide into home safely.
“Paul Velasco has been hitting the hell out of the ball lately,” Miller said. “He’s been hitting it right to people, unfortunately. I told the guys that balls will find holes eventually. They just need to keep being confident at the plate.”
When Steamers found the basepaths, they thought their speed could be a neutralizer against Hall. In most games it is, but on Friday, Fulton was 1-for-3 in steal attempts.
“I don’t think we were over-aggressive on the basepaths,” Miller said. “We know we have speed on our team, and we knew this was going to be a pitchers dual, so we took chances.”
Fulton actually out-hit Hall 5-2 while both teams committed three errors.
HALL 5, FULTON 2
Hall 001 121 0 — 5 2 3
Fulton 000 200 0 — 2 5 3
Pete Mautino (7 ip, 5 h, 2 r) and Adam Sangston; Jack Lemke (4 ip, 2 h, 2 r, 2 er, 1 bb, 0 so), Devon Ballard (2 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 er, 0 bb, 2 so), Seth Sanderson (1 ip, 0 h, 3 r, 1 er, 1 bb, 0 so) and Jake Vanzuiden. Multiple hits — Fulton (Ballard 2). 2B — Hall (Zibert); Fulton (Paul Velasco). HR — Hall (Miguel Villareal). RBIs — Hall (Taber, Villareal, Sangston); Fulton (Velasco).