JEFFERSON — With the regular season winding down and having tallied up just one victory this season, the Collins-Maxwell/Baxter Raiders are looking for smaller signs of improvement.
“Victories” has been a foreign word for CMB this season, and the team’s 1-21 record tells the story of a young team in a contentious conference struggling to compete, but the Raiders showed some competitive fire in their 5-4 loss to the Greene County Rams on Thursday night.
“There were definitely some things I liked out there. They are doing stuff that I have been telling them to do all year,” CMB coach Max Seeman said. “They’re finally getting it. If you watch this game and then games we have been playing throughout the year, you can definitely tell the difference in their confidence, the way they carry themselves at the plate, in the field, wherever. We’re headed in the right direction going into district play.”
The Raiders got on top early with a run in the top of the first inning, but the Rams put together a four-run rally in the bottom of the inning to take an early three-run advantage after one.
CMB got a couple of runners on to lead off the second inning. Freshman Brady Stover’s single through the left side of the infield put runners on first and second, but Rams’ starter Colton Fitzpatrick was able to strike out back-to-back Raiders to retire the side.
Stover had one of the early highlights in the game in the bottom of the third inning. With runners on first and second base and no outs, there was a ball hit to Stover in medium-deep center field. Stover circled under the ball and fired a blistering throw to try to nail the runner at third base, getting the ball to Aaron Haupert without a bounce.
Haupert looked to come up with the ball cleanly, but the umpire saw it differently and ruled the runner safe. CMB starter Seth Balke picked up a strikeout and got the final batter of the inning to fly out to Stover, retiring the side.
Feeding off the momentum gained from Stover’s throw in the bottom of the third, the Raiders struck in the top of the fourth. Stover’s line drive single into left field put runners on first and second with one out. Balke hit a slow roller to shortstop and managed to beat out the throw, allowing a run to score.
Following a fielder’s choice that moved the runners to second and third base, junior first baseman Zach Samson hit a ground ball single through the third-base side of the infield, pulling CMB within a run.
With runners at the corners and two outs, Samson got picked off of first base, but he was able to stay in a pickle long enough to allow Balke to come home with the tying run.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, their momentum would be stifled in the bottom half of the fourth inning.
The Rams’ rally started when a single into left field was booted by the Raiders’ left fielder, allowing Greene County to put a runner in scoring position with one out. A single by Ram senior Matt Paulsen put the Rams ahead for good and gave the game its final score on 5-4.
Samson tried to start a rally in the top of the seventh with a two-out ground-rule double, but he was left stranded to end the game.
Despite taking the loss, Balke was very sharp through the last six frames. He allowed just one unearned run in the last six innings of work, and he ended his day by freezing a Rams’ batter with a fastball on the outside corner.
“Seth just had confidence. He really believed in himself and the guys behind him to make the plays. Seth stuck with it. It didn’t matter what pitch he threw, he had confidence in it, and that’s what you need out of your pitchers” Seeman said.
This has been a rough season for Raider baseball, but the Raiders haven’t simply packed up and gone home.
The last two games show CMB wants to fight for victories, and Seeman’s strategy to keeping the team focused might have something to do with that.
“I like to keep our same routine before games and in batting practice,” he said. “In practice, I make sure we’re focused by showing up, making it as game-like as possible and taking care of business. All I want is all they’ve got.”