Dubuque County matched Appleton, Wis., hit-for-hit in the opening game of the American Legion Central Plains Regional Tournament on Wednesday morning.
The difference was when those hits came.
Appleton came through with the more timely hitting en route to a 9-4 decision in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Dubuque County next plays at 9 a.m. this morning in an elimination game at the eight-team tournament against Renner, S.D.
“We hit the ball just as hard as they did, but it seemed like when they got their hits, they went for extra bases or they came with a couple of guys in scoring position,” said Dubuque Hempstead centerfielder Riley Connolly, who went 3-for-4 with a two-run double. “That’s the way baseball goes sometimes. But we still had 12 hits off their ace, so we feel pretty good about the way we’re swinging it.
“Now we just have to come out (this morning) and keep swinging the bats the way we did today. We know Casey (Perrenoud) is going to throw a gem for us on the mound, so we just have to come through with a few more timely hits and we’ll be fine.”
Appleton only outhit Dubuque County, 13-12. But Dubuque County stranded 11 runners. Three defensive miscues also proved to be costly.
“We hit the ball hard with guys on base, but they were either right at people or the guy made a great play to keep us from scoring,” Dubuque County coach Rob Hoerner said. “The baseball gods weren’t on our side today, I guess.
“We’ve been in this situation before, with our backs against the wall. We did it six times last year, so our kids know they can do it.”
Dubuque County went 6-1 in elimination games last summer en route to an appearance in the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C. The squad also won an elimination game this spring while winning the Iowa state championship.
After not advancing a runner past second base in the first two innings, Appleton erupted in the third inning with five runs on six hits while chasing starting pitcher Haris Hoffman. Brennan Chynoweth led off with a double to right-centerfield and scored on No. 9 hitter Max Martine’s single to left.
Aaron Reiland followed with a base hit, and Will Monroe drove in the next two with a one-out double to left field. Monroe scored when Bubba Thompson doubled to the same gap. Another double, this time by Wes Sommers to right-centerfield off reliever Charlie Jaeger, plated the fifth run.
Dubuque County got on the board in the bottom of the fourth. Kyle Lehmann laced a one-out triple the opposite way to the left-centerfield gap and scored when Wil Courtney flew out to center.
But Appleton got that run right back in the top of the fifth. T.J. Van Eperen reached on a hit batsman and Monroe connected for his second double — and the team’s fifth — before Thompson’s sacrifice fly made it 6-1. Appleton got another sacrifice fly from Ben Babich later in the inning to extend its cushion to six runs.
Dubuque County loaded the bases in the fifth on a pair of one-out infield singles by Damon Jaeger and Connolly and a bloop single to center by Matty Schmitz. Reid Rausch followed with a sacrifice fly to center to cut the deficit to 7-2 before Van Eperen wiggled out of the jam.
But, again, Appleton responded. Martine and Reiland singled to open the frame, and Thompson delivered a two-run triple to straightaway centerfield to tack on insurance runs and make it 9-2.
Dubuque County chipped away at the deficit in the sixth. It loaded the bases on a Riley Reed walk, a Matt Maiers single and when Damon Jaeger reached on catcher’s interference. Connolly followed with his double to the right-centerfield gap to drive in two and pull Dubuque County within 9-4.
“Our guys didn’t quit,” Hoerner said. “We kept at it and didn’t back off. But that’s what you expect from a group of kids from Dubuque County.
“We’ll be ready to go (this morning).”