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Cape Central baseball team downs Hillsboro, starts hitting stride
Two seven-win teams hurriedly left the Central High School baseball field as rain began to fall right at the conclusion of their game Monday.
The host Tigers have encountered their share of dark moments during a 7-14 season, but the Tigers had the look of a team that expected the storm to be followed by a rainbow and a pot of gold.
Hillsboro, which arrived late for the game due to mechanical problems with a bus, departed with a 7-15 record and the look of a team merely hoping for a safe trip home.
Central played error-free defense, capitalized on its scoring opportunities and posted a lopsided 9-2 victory despite two fewer hits than the visiting Hawks.
The victory was the third consecutive for Central, which played its final home game and will open Class 4 District 1 play Saturday against rival Jackson.
"They've had a good attitude all year long," Central coach Steve Williams said. "That's been a bragging point with the kids. With the record we've got, they could have got down, and they didn't. Now it's starting to turn. It's the time of year where you want to be playing your best, and I feel like we are right now."
Central reached the Class 4 quarterfinals last year, but the Tigers have had their struggles this season, evidenced by their sixth seed in the seven-team district.
But the Tigers have not looked like a team prepared to wave a white flag anytime soon. Central beat district opponent Sikeston last week and owns a victory over third-seeded Jackson.
"It's a lot more fun to be out there right now just because everybody is hitting," said Central senior center fielder Christian Cavaness, who went 2 for 2 with a triple and scored four runs. "Everybody is in the game. We're getting extra-base hits, stealing bases. The pitching is working for us right now, and our defense is coming together."
Central had eight hits against Hillsboro, stranded just five base runners and turned a double play.
"I feel like we're playing really well right now," said Central senior catcher Ryan Siebert, who went 3 for 3 with three RBIs. "We're not making as many mistakes as we were early in the year. It's a good thing getting on a roll going into districts."
Hillsboro had the look of a team headed in a different direction.
"Our dugout was dead this game," Hillsboro coach Jim Kowzan said. "It's been dead about every game. That's just kind of typical for us right now."
Hillsboro never looked in sync on a day it had to retreat home for a new bus.
"We had a major bus issue. We didn't get stranded, but we were close," Kowzan said.
The Hawks eventually became stranded, but not until they occupied the base paths at Central.
Hillsboro scored only two runs despite 10 hits, five walks by Tigers pitchers and two hit batsmen. The Hawks left at least two runners on base in six of the seven innings.
"That's been our M.O. the entire year," Kowzan said. "We don't get the big hit."
Winning pitcher Chase Hagerty forced Hillsboro to strand two runners in the first inning, and Central took the lead and momentum in the bottom of the frame.
Cavaness lined a single up the middle and went all the way to third when the ball skipped under the glove of the center fielder. Siebert staked Hagerty to a 1-0 lead with a single to left-center field, which came after the right-handed batter fouled off several 0-2 curveballs from Hillsboro pitcher Dustin Finch.
"He's been pretty steady all year long," Williams said about Siebert. "He got off to a little bit of a slow start, but lately -- the last two, three weeks -- he's been a couple hits a game."
Central added four runs on just two hits in the fourth inning for a 5-0 lead. Cavaness drilled a two-run triple and later scored on a ground out by Ramsey Scott. Vance Toole, who had walked, stole second and went to third on Scott's ground out before scoring on a wild pitch.
Hillsboro plated its only two runs in the fourth inning on a two-out single by Garrett Anderson.
Central got the runs back in the bottom half of the inning with an efficient display of offense.
Finch hit Tigers on back-to-back pitches with one out, and Toole advanced the runners with a bunt. Siebert then chased home Kyle Thompson and Cavaness with a two-out single for a 7-2 lead.
"We're starting to get some hits with men on base, and that's the difference that we haven't had most of the year," Williams said. "We're starting to drive some runs in."
Hagerty, a freshman, allowed six hits, walked one and struck out three over four innings.
Hillsboro loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning against senior reliever Thomas Crocetti, who had replaced Hagerty.
Williams lifted Crocetti for sophomore Matt Chism, who needed just two pitches to escape the jam. Chism got Hawks cleanup hitter Ricky Knight to hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Aaron Wendel, who stepped on the bag and threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
"That's the first double play we've turned in a long time," Williams said. "And that's the thing, we're making plays we should make. We're not making fancy plays, but we're making the plays we should make. And that's good in high school baseball."
The Tigers added two more runs in the sixth inning. Toole and Scott had RBI singles.
"We're playing better," Williams said. "We're playing better in all phases. We're playing better defensively. We're getting good pitching as we have all year, and we're starting to swing the bats better. That makes up for any mistakes that we make. Slowly but surely we're getting better, and hopefully we're going to peak at the right time."
* The Tigers presented a plaque before the game to longtime assistant coach Darrick Smith, who is retiring after the school year. Smith, who was the school's athletic director for two years and has been a football assistant, has been with the baseball program for 15 years.
"He's a wonderful coach and a great teacher, and he's a great friend," Williams said. "He's been the backbone of our program. The kids really appreciate him, and I appreciate him."
WP -- Chase Haggerty. LP -- Dustin Finch. 3B -- Christian Cavaness (C). Multiple hits -- Hillsboro: Zack Sloan 2-3, Ryan Deckard 3-4, Riley Blyzes 3-4; Central: Cavaness 2-2, Ryan Siebert 3-3. Records -- Hillsboro 7-16, Central 7-14.