CLINTON — In a bit of a departure from the norm, Ashford University Field played host to high school baseball Wednesday, the first of three days that the Three Rivers Conference is taking over the Lumberkings’ home stadium. Fulton felt right at home, winning twice.
In the opening game, the Steamers and Riverdale matched each other inning-for-inning through the first five of a pitchers duel. Both starters, Matt Dail for Fulton and Josh Lohman for Riverdale, found their comfort zone working from the stretch and lasted through the sixth inning.
Dail has pitched that way since he began playing baseball. The strategy worked well. Both pitchers breezed through the first five innings, with Dail giving up only two hits, while Lohman did him one better, allowing one.
But the sixth inning rolled around and things started to get dicey.
Rams catcher Ruben Garza began with a sharp single, but that was erased when Garza ran himself off the base paths for the second time in the game. The threat seemed to be neutralized with two outs, but the Rams kept fighting as Jason Hoehn worked a walk, stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw from the catcher. Hoehn scored the first run of the on next pitch, which went wild.
An RBI single from Nathan Rocker plated the second run of the inning, putting Riverdale up 2-0.
The Fulton bats finally woke up in the bottom of the sixth, triggered by Dail hustling and turning a single into a double to lead off. Ethan Jones brought Dail around to score on a single and later scored on a two-run double from designated hitter Paul Velasco that gave the Steamers the 3-2 lead.
Fulton didn’t stop there, tacking on four more runs, highlighted by a perfectly placed bunt from Weston Jones and base-running trickery from Colin Tichler and Jones.
“I just kind of went for it and it worked out all right,” Jones said about his bunt that loaded the bases.
As good as Dail was in the first game, Ethan Jones was his equal in the last one, a 5-2 Fulton win over Amboy.
“It’s a big thing having those two guys (Dail and Jones); they do a great job of getting on the mound knowing they’ve got to go a long ways and protect the rest of our guys,” Steamers coach Jayme Farrell said.
Jones didn’t have his best stuff against Amboy, but he did well with what he had and relied on his defense to fill gaps, which they did without hesitation. Amboy starter Taylor Ikens matched Jones through the first five innings before the sixth turned disastrous for the Clippers.
The Clippers pushed a run across the plate in the fifth inning to take the lead back after Fulton tied it the half-inning before. A double by leadoff man Spencer Johnson and a stolen base were followed by an RBI single up the middle from catcher Bailey Applemen to put the Clippers up 2-1.
The lead wouldn’t last long.
Fulton tied the game at 2 in the bottom of the fifth when Ethan Jones worked a leadoff walk and later came around to score another Paul Velasco double to the gap.
Fulton took over the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth.
After two quick outs, the Steamers wanted to avoid going to extra innings, especially with their packed schedule through the weekend. Tichler came to the plate, working the count to 2-2 before lacing a single up the middle. Dail and Ethan Jones walked to load the bases for cleanup man Austin Manon.
Amboy replaced Ikens with Tyson Powers, who looked to have had the inning wrapped up in one pitch. Manon fouled it off to the right side, but as Appleman drifted over, he overran the ball as it glanced off his mitt, giving Manon new life at the plate.
Three pitches later, the Steamers catcher sent a fly ball to right field for what looked like a routine out, but right fielder Drew Fordham, who had misplayed an earlier single from Cody Huff, bobbled the ball three times after it as if it were in his glove for a three-run error, giving the Steamers the 5-2 lead.
Jones came out in the seventh inning to finish off the Clippers and on two pitches had two quick outs before Appleman got on with a single.
“I was just trying to stay confident,” Jones said. “Just gotta throw strikes.”
Jones hunkered down and struck out Fordham to end the game and give the Steamers their second win on the night.
FULTON 7, RIVERDALE 3
Riverdale 000 002 1 — 3 7 2
Fulton 000 000 x 7 6 1
Lohman (6 ip, 6 h, 7 r, 5 er, 2 bb, 4 so) and Garza; Dail (6 ip, 5 h, 1 r, 0 er, 1 bb, 5 so), Jones (1 ip, 2 h, 2 r, 1 er, 0 bb, 1 so) and Manon. Multiple hits — Riverdale (Garza 3, Lohman 2); Fulton (Dail 2, Huff 2). 2B — Riverdale (Beale, Milroy); Fulton (Dail, Velasco). RBIs — Riverdale (Rocker, Stickler); Fulton (E. Jones, Velasco 2, Dail).
FULTON 5, AMBOY 2
Amboy 001 010 0 — 2 4 1
Fulton 000 113 x 5 7 1
Ikens (5 2/3 ip, 7 h, 5 r, 2 er, 6 bb, 8 so), Powers (1/3 ip, 0 h, 0 er, 0 bb, 1 so) and Appleman; E. Jones (7 ip, 2 h, 2 r, 1 er, 2 bb, 13 so) and Manon. Multiple hits — Amboy (Appleman 2). 2B — Amboy (Johnson); Fulton (Dail, Velasco). RBIs — Amboy (Appleman); Fulton (E. Jones, Velasco 2, Dail).