Claremore nearly completed the unlikeliest of comebacks Friday morning.
Despite facing an eight-run deficit in the fourth, the Zebras found their second wind and scored 10 runs in the final four innings. However, Claremore eventually succumbed to its slow start, dropping a 12-11 decision to Joplin in the Tiger/Zebra Classic at American Legion Park.
“They were over on Pryor’s side Thursday, and they whooped up on some of the Oklahoma guys, so we knew they were going to be really good,” Claremore coach Jim Sherl said. “I thought our pitching was OK, but we just got behind counts, and those guys can swing it well. They put the ball in play, hit some really hard balls over our heads and scored some runs.”
The Zebras trailed 9-1 at one point, but Noah Smallwood started the rally with a 2-RBI single in the bottom of the fourth, scoring Maddux Renfroe and Nick Garbani. Ethan Grimett followed by driving in Carson Young with a sacrifice fly to center field, and Gannon Sherl capped the five-run frame with a 2-RBI triple to trim the deficit to a manageable 9-6.
Joplin responded accordingly, though, scoring runs on two errors and a fielder’s choice to balloon the advantage to 12-6.
Claremore didn’t answer until the sixth, with Grimett singling in Brooks Sherl. The latter set up the scoring play with a triple on the previous at-bat.
The Zebras made their final push in the seventh with four more runs, but the final two at-bats resulted in a strikeout and a fly out, stymieing the comeback effort.
Young scored Renfroe with a single to center field, and after a base-loaded walk made it a three-run game, Grimett tallied his third hit with a 2-RBI single to left field, scoring Young and Smallwood.
“We had some good at-bats against Tulsa Rogers, but we’ve been really struggling at the plate,” Jim Sherl said. “I thought that would be one of our strong suits. As a team, we’ve really been slumping. But there late, Carson Young put the perfect bunt down and gets us to bases loaded, and Ethan got the big hit. I thought the bunt kind of sparked us, and then for Noah, Brooks and Ethan to come in behind and drive in runs and get RBIs, it was the way our offense is supposed to work.”
Grant Evans kept the Eagles scoreless the final two innings while Claremore made its rally, tossing two strikeouts in all while surrendering four hits, four runs and three walks on 68 pitches through four innings.
Cameron Palmer took the loss on the mound, striking out three while surrendering six hits, eight runs and four walks on 82 pitches in three innings of action.
“We threw in our lefty pitcher Grant Evans, and he came in there and threw strikes and kept them off balance,” Jim Sherl said. “He had his curveball and changeup working, and we were able to make plays behind him and kind of held them there, and we slowly started chipping away.”
Joplin opened the scoring in the first when Kohl Cooper doubled in Fielding Campbell, and an error two at-bats later pushed the score to 2-0.
Palmer nearly got out of the second without any further damage thanks to two strikeouts, but the Eagles then tallied four-consecutive hits — a triple, a double and two singles — all of which scored runs and increased the spread to 6-0. Campbell, Bodee Carlson, Cooper and Ethan Guilford were responsible for the sudden spurt.
Derek Scuggins put the Zebras on the board for the first time in the second, scoring on an error.
The Eagles tacked on another run on a sac fly from David Fiscus in the fourth, and Alex Curry added two more with a single to center field three pitches later, bringing the score to 9-1.
Despite the loss, Jim Sherl said playing out-of-state opponents always provides fun growing opportunities.
“We try to find the best teams around that we can play, whether it be in-state or out-of-state,” Jim Sherl said. “There’s a lot of great teams in our state, and there’s a lot of great teams 20 miles away. But any time we can find somebody that we don’t see every day and don’t have scouting charts for and all that, it’s fun. With district play, a lot of people say these games don’t matter, but for us, they matter.
“Any time we can play the best of the best, we think that’s going to get us better down the road.”