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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Hicks, Squirrels power past Southeast Tropics to secure a spot in state tournament bracket play

Friday, July 14, 2017

Charleston pitcher Austin Hicks throws a pitch to a Southeast Tropics hitter during the Missouri Senior Babe Ruth State Tournament Thursday, July 13, 2017, at Hillhouse Park in Charleston, Mo.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
CHARLESTON, Mo. -- After two innings, Charleston Squirrels starter Austin Hicks was already over 50 pitches.

That uncharacteristically lofty number for the Bell City native was due in large part to the Southeast Tropics, who shelled out six singles for three runs in the second inning.

And although his pitch count was climbing, Hicks didn't change his approach from that moment on. The Tropics simply went cold and couldn't find the holes that were open in the second inning.

Despite the slow start, Hicks powered his way to six innings of work while the Squirrels offense behind him battled back from an early deficit to take down the Tropics 5-3 Thursday night at Hillhouse Park in Charleston, Mo., on Day 2 of pool play during the Missouri Senior Babe Ruth State Tournament.

Charleston (31-6) improved to 2-0 in pool play and secured a spot in Saturday's bracket play.

"Solid night from us. That's a team win," Charleston coach Michael Minner said. "We got guys that can come in and play nearly any position and we needed those tonight. The guys pulled through and beat a good team."

Charleston's Garrison Keene gets a face full of dirt as he slides headfirst safely into third base as Southeast Tropic third baseman Dalton Hobgood catches the throw during the Missouri Senior Babe Ruth State Tournament Thursday, July 13, 2017, at Hillhouse Park in Charleston, Mo.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
Hicks, who helped the Bell City high school baseball team cap off their third-straight Class 1 state championship in the spring, finished with 107 pitches and was only touched up in the second inning when the Tropics scattered their six singles. The Tropics started the inning with four consecutive hits. RBI hits from Matt Finley, Dylan Mize and Hunter Berry followed to put them ahead 3-0.

The Tropics (10-14) seemed to hit balls everywhere, except right at a Squirrels defender.

"He told me the inning that he struggled he didn't feel like he was better the rest of the game, they just hit him," Minner said. "[Southeast] stuck their bats out and just did a good job of grinding out some at-bats and put us in a hole. But I thought Austin settled in after that."

After throwing 54 pitches in two innings, Hicks threw 53 during the next four. He retired seven in a row, at one point, while striking out six and allowed just two runners on during the stretch.

He gave up just two hits outside of the Tropics' six-single second and finished with eight strikeouts.

"For him to give us six innings is impressive because after the second inning he's sitting at 50 pitches on his way to 105 and he guts one out," Minner said. "That's important for us to keep a fresh bullpen."

Immediately after the Tropics took their 3-0 lead, the Squirrels answered with two of their own. Braden Cox belted a triple to deep centerfield to kickstart things in the bottom of the second and later scored on a wild pitch. Cole Nichols drove in Hicks later in the inning to make it 3-2.

Charleston first baseman Trey McDaniel catches a pickoff throw as Southeast Tropics' Hunter Berry dives back safely during the Missouri Senior Babe Ruth State Tournament Thursday, July 13, 2017, at Hillhouse Park in Charleston, Mo.
(David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
Charleston tied the game and then took the lead in the fourth inning. A single from Jason Jarrell eventually led to an RBI single from Garrison Keene to knot things up at 3-all.

Then Nichols sent a hard-hit single to right field that scooted under the glove of the Tropics right fielder. Both Keene and Nichols raced around the bases for two runs on the error giving the Squirrels, who finished with seven hits, their 5-3 lead.

"[Nichols] hits a ball that was going to be a hit anyway and they kind of misplay it," Minner said. "It gets by and I'm not sure I've seen anybody as quick from home to home as Cole is... Garrison [Keene] had a big hit too. We did some good things at the plate tonight."

The Tropics had one final gasp at Charleston's lead in the seventh inning after Spencer Burnham belted a two-out triple. But Squirrels reliever Logan Damesworth quickly shut the door to give the right-hander from South Pemiscot the save.

"Logan came in and just shut it down," Minner said. "We had some other guys ready to come in just in case we needed an out. We know we're deep pitching-wise and we want to utilize that to our advantage."

The Tropics received a stellar start from Burnham, who lasted five innings. The Van Buren native gave up four earned runs on seven hits before bowing out to reliever Dylan Mize in the sixth.

"Spencer really was a bulldog out there for us and Mize was too when he went in," Schwartz said. "Just a solid outing from both of those guys... Defense was solid behind him but we had one mishap.

"That's a great team," Schwartz said about Charleston. "Great team, great pitching, we saw two of the best arms they have. I couldn't have asked more from my guys."

The Tropics fell to 0-2 in the pool, all but eliminating them from bracket play. They will play one more game today against Monett.

"We're going to come out tomorrow and give it our all," Schwartz said. "We've had a good summer, had some fun and we're going to have one more good game tomorrow."


Two players exited Thursday's game after getting hit by pitches.

Southeast Tropics catcher Colton Dunbar was hit in the ear while behind the plate sending him to the hospital for further evaluation.

Charleston Squirrels' second baseman Ty Householder was hit by a pitch in the left cheek in the fourth inning. Swelling immediately started to show below the eye and although he was removed from the game, he remained in the dugout.

What's on tap

The Squirrels will take on the two-time defending state champion Wayne County Lumberjacks tonight at 7:15 p.m. Both teams go into the final day of pool play with a 2-0 record and have sealed a spot in Saturday's bracket play, but the top seed is still up for grabs.

Charleston pitcher Ronin Rice will get the start against Wayne County.

In Pool B, Ultimate Baseball wrapped up the top seed after Charleston AAA defeated Mineral Area, who was eliminated from bracket play. Charleston AAA and Charleston AA will play today at 1:45 p.m., with the winner getting the final spot in bracket play.

Tropics 030 000 0 -- 3 9 4

Char. 020 300 x -- 5 7 1

WP -- Austin Hicks. LP -- Spencer Burnham. S -- Logan Damesworth. 2B -- Wyatt Pratt (C). 3B -- Burnham (S), Braden Cox (C). Multiple hitters: Southeast -- Hunter Berry 2-4, Corby Sieve 2-3; Charleston -- Cole Nichols 2-4, Garrison Keene 2-3.

Pool Play through Day 2
Pool A
Charleston Squirrels 2-0
Wayne County 2-0
Southeast Tropics 0-2
Monett 0-2
Pool B
Ultimate Baseball 2-0
Charleston AA 1-1
Charleston AAA 1-1
Mineral Area 0-2

Friday's Schedule
Southeast Tropics vs. Monett, 11 a.m.
Charleston AA vs. Charleston AAA, 1:45 p.m.
Ultimate Sports vs. Mineral Area, 4:30 p.m.
Charleston Fighting Squirrels vs. Wayne County Lumberjacks, 7:15 p.m.