Slump sinks punch-less Wildcats
De Soto baseball coach Joel Thaemert said his baseball team is struggling similarly to the Kansas City Royals.
Well, somewhat similarly. While a .500 record might spark a parade through Kansas City, these Cats expect a lot more. But just like the Royals, it's a team-encompassing hitting slump that's spoiling everything.
The Wildcats, who controlled their league destiny a week ago, lost three times late last week and Monday, falling most recently 6-3 at Louisburg. The team also fell 1-0 Thursday at Spring Hill and 7-6 Friday at Ottawa.
"There are three phases: pitching, hitting and defense. If you're good in two, you can usually win," Thaemert said. "We've been missing the hitting and (recently) our defense has let us down. (Monday) that led to four unearned runs."
The trio of losses to other league front runners likely ended the Cats' hopes of a Frontier League crown.
The problem hasn't been hard to detect, De Soto coach Joel Thaemert said. De Soto's offense went from wobbling between powerful and lackluster earlier in the season to a more consistent pace as of late. The problem lies in that pace being dreadfully slow and unreliable.
De Soto had just two hits against Spring Hill, and two again heading into Monday's two-run seventh inning against Louisburg. Veterans up and down the lineup are struggling to log solid at bats and the Cats that do reach base are rarely being ushered home.
"It's hard to even put together a lineup right now," Thaemert said. "It really is."
Perhaps the signs of the team's struggles were never more obvious than when the Cats actually took a 1-0 first-inning lead against Louisburg.
De Soto looked like a National League champion playing small ball. De Soto's leadoff hitter, Jerin Riffel, drew a walk and was replaced on the bases by Jake Bosnak.
Bosnak stole second, and then reached third on a sacrifice bunt. He scored when Austin DeGraeve grounded out to the right side of the infield.
It was textbook baseball, but that it was the only way the Cats scored until the game was basically in hand served as more of an indictment than a gold star.
"The pitchers have to be perfect right now," Thaemert said. "They make one mistake and we're going to pay for it because it's always a tight game.
"It's not the pitching. (Monday) we pitched well enough to win."
Hot or not, the Cats had a challenge in front of them Tuesday in talented Louisburg senior Tyler Anthony. Anthony mixed a mid-80s fastball with an effective slider and stayed out of trouble through the game's first six innings. He hit Cat shortstop Travis Crow in the third inning and gave up a single to DeGraeve, but struck out two to escape the inning.
He sat De Soto down in order in the fourth and again in the fifth, again closing with a pair of strikeouts and had given up only the hit to DeGraeve and a double to Aaron Hanson entering the sixth.
"He's a good pitcher," said DeGraeve, who has played with Anthony in summer leagues in the past. "He did his job. He had his fastball and his slider going and he was good.
"We just need to get our bats going. But we have a few days off now, and we'll be ready."
It came down to De Soto's inability to get hits in key situations. The Cats threatened late, but couldn't generate the necessary offense.
DeGraeve, one of the team's only consistent bats at this point, doubled into deep left-center field. His hit was followed up by a single by Tyler Farmer, and he scored when Bader put it in play.
Riffel kept the Cats in the game from the mound, but three unearned runs scored in the fourth and he left with two outs.
De Soto mounted one final rally in the seventh. Dustin Grimes reached on a single and Riffel beat out a double play behind him. Crow walked and Riffel scored on a DeGraeve double. It ended with a bounding ball to short, and De Soto's late effort wasn't nearly enough.
"We're just slumping," Thaemert said. "There are only a couple people in the lineup having good, consistent at bats, and that puts a lot of pressure on the lineup to score runs. We have to have better at bats, better concentration and we need to practice.
"We have to meet challenges. We haven't done that for the last several games. We've had opportunities and we haven't done it."