Claremore baseball has a set of rules.
Rule No. 1? Hit the ball where the opponent isn’t.
Unfortunately for the Zebras, they had trouble enforcing that guideline on Tuesday afternoon. Claremore either grounded or flew out on 17 occasions at the plate, stranding six in a 6-0 loss to Pryor at American Legion Park.
Zebras coach Jim Sherl said he thought his team put the ball in play much better than the first game of the series, but the Tigers always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
In all, Claremore tallied four hits while striking out only three times, which was an improvement from Monday’s two hits and nine strikeouts.
“We just hit balls right at them,” Sherl said. “They made plays on us, and they played good defense. We’re always disappointed that we lose, but I’m not disappointed in the guys. They’re just a good ballclub, and they put the ball in play when they needed to and did what they needed to do to outscore us.”
Jarett Gage, who led the team with three hits and two runs scores, got things going early for the Tigers, leading the game off with a flyball double to right field. He scored shortly after on a passed ball to give Pryor a 1-0 advantage.
That remained the margin until the fourth inning when Jaedon Campbell opened the scoring again with a 2-RBI single on a groundball to right field, scoring Trent Hill and Brooks Miller.
It was the second-straight game in which the Zebras surrendered multiple runs in the fourth inning while trailing by only one or two, and the coincidence wasn’t lost on Sherl.
“I actually made that statement in the dugout,” Sherl said. “The curse of the fourth inning is getting us here.”
Part of the reason for the fourth-inning struggles is the timing of when to send in a relief pitcher.
To have fresh arms come playoff time, Claremore has used its pitchers sparingly for years by keeping pitch counts low.
However, once the pitchers hit the 70-80 mark, they start showing signs of fatigue. This time it was Dasen Tilley.
The sophomore struck out four while allowing six hits, three runs and two walks on 81 pitches through five full innings. He was relieved by Brady Priess, who allowed five hits, three runs and a walk to two strikeouts.
“We try to get a lot of kids on the mound and get a lot of kids experience,” Sherl said. “(Monday), I thought I was one inning late. (Tuesday), I thought we had a chance, but I was probably one inning too late.”
Pryor added to its lead in the seventh when Gus Collins blasted a shot to the centerfield gap to log an RBI single, and Nick Sizemore drove in two more with a double down the left-field line.
Collins and Sizemore joined Gage as the only other Tigers to connect for multiple hits, helping Pryor to 11 hits total.
Claremore doesn’t return to the diamond until Monday when it hosts Booker T. Washington at 5 p.m.
The Zebras have been playing games seemingly nonstop since spring break, and Sherl said the five-day break will provide some much-needed practice time after enduring 10 games in 15 days.
“We’re finally gonna get some good weather so we can get out on the field,” Sherl said. “It seems like we haven’t practiced in a while. We obviously want to win games and win district, but our ultimate goal is to always play our best baseball in May.”