By Brad Cameronsports@dailygate.com
FAIRFIELD — Despite dropping four games to Mount Pleasant in the regular season, the Keokuk Chiefs took it to the Southeast Conference baseball champs in the district opener.
Keokuk scored two runs in the first inning and never trailed. Mount Pleasant made a late challenge, but the Chiefs held on for a 7-6 win in Class 3A Substate 5 District 10 Friday.
“Mount Pleasant is a very good team,” said Keokuk Head Coach Scott Rose. “They won our conference with a 14-2 record, but we knew we could compete with them. We took them to extra innings up at there place, and we lost 5-4 to them at our place. We just had to play our game and worry about ourselves.”
Keokuk, 15-23, plays Fairfield in the district final at 7 p.m. today in Fairfield. The Trojans, advanced with a 16-1 win in four innings over Fort Madison Friday.
Fairfield, 25-11, also defeated Keokuk four times during the regular season, but the Chiefs just proved anything can happen in the postseason.
“Fairfield is going to hit the ball,” Rose said. “We’re going to have to score some runs and play good defense. As long as we make plays, we can play with anybody around, and we’ll give it our best shot Monday night.”
Mount Pleasant ends the season 25-14.
Keokuk jumped out to the early lead. Andrew Patterson led off the game with a single up the middle, and Gavin Thompson followed with a double that one-hopped the fence in right-center.
Mount Pleasant pitcher Dalton Shull almost got out of the opening inning unscathed. He fielded a come-backer hit to him by Jacob Jones, and got Dalton Boecker to foul out to catcher Caleb Potts, but Bryce Miller delivered a single to right field to score Patterson and Thompson to put the Chiefs on top.
“It kind of set the tone for the night, and our bats didn’t go quiet,” Rose said. “We kept hitting the ball night, and we kept the pressure on them. They have a heck of a team. We knew we had to score some runs, and the offense really responded.”
Mount Pleasant cut the lead in half in the bottom of the first. Chase Lamm reached on an error, and Pat Canby followed with an infield single. Cooper Huckabone flew out to Thompson in center, but Lamm advanced to third. Zac Ebling drove in the run with a ground out.
Keokuk increased its lead in the third inning. Jones doubled off the left field fence and scored when Miller homered over the right field fence to put the Chiefs ahead 4-1.
“Bryce had four two-out RBIs tonight,” Rose said. “I moved him down in the line-up because he responses a little bit better to the pressure. He’s been hitting No. 2 all year, but I thought moving him down with some guys on base might get him going a little bit and it did. He’s a real excitable player, and when he gets going he sets the tone for all of us.”
Mount Pleasant answered in the bottom of the third. Canby led off the inning with a walk, and Huckabone hit a two-run homer to pull the Panthers to within 4-3.
Ebling and Potts followed the home run with singles, but Ethan Blaise pitched Keokuk out of the jam to allow the Chiefs to maintain the lead.
Keokuk’s offense came through again in the fourth inning. Tyler Prewitt and Patterson each reached on one-out infield singles. Thompson hit into a fielder’s choice, putting runners on third and first.
Shull was concerned with Thompson, who led the conference with 27 stolen bases, on first base. He tried three pickoff attempts at first before throwing his first pitch to Jones, who sent the ball over the center field fence for a three-run homer for a 7-3 Keokuk lead.
“Everybody in the conference knows Gavin can really steal some bases, so Shull may have been concerned with him enough to give Jones a pitch he could hit,” Rose said. “As far as the scoreboard shows, we really needed that home run.”
Huckabone drove in his third run of the game with a two-out single to score Keegan Rich in the bottom of the fourth. The Panthers threatened again in the sixth inning.
Jones struck out Rich to start the inning, but consecutive walks to Lamm, Canby and Huckabone loaded the bases.
Rose brought in Patterson to pitch, but Ebling reached on an error to score Lamm, and Potts hit a sacrifice fly to score Canby, cutting the deficit to 7-6. Jordan Magnani lined a single to left to load the bases, but Colby Potts hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Bryce Anderson walked to start the bottom of the seventh for Mount Pleasant, but Patterson struck out Zach Beason and got Lamm to foul out yo Boecker catching. Patterson then struck out Canby looking to end the game.
“I’m going to live or die with Andrew,” Rose said. “He’s a senior and a five-year letterwinner, and I’m going to given him the ball every time. He’s come through for us a lot this year.”
Miller went 3 for 4 with a home run and four runs batted in, and Jones was 3 for 4 with a home run, double and three runs batted in to lead Keokuk. Reade Reiter went 2 for 4 with a double. Patterson was 2 for 4. Prewitt and Matt Wyatt each were 1 for 3, and Thompson finished 1 for 4.
Blaise pitched three innings and allowed two earned runs on five hits over three innings. He walked two and struck out three. Jones allowed three earned runs on two hits in 2 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four. Patterson allowed one hit and one walk in 1 2/3 innings. He struck out two.