By Chet Piotrowski
An inexperienced Mattoon squad starting only two players with varsity experience struggled Saturday afternoon – allowing 23 runs and committing 11 errors in losing a doubleheader to Champaign Centennial on Saturday afternoon.
Centennial scored in every inning and allowed only two hits in winning an abbreviated run-rule game 12-2 and Mattoon then squandered a 7-0 lead in an 11-8 loss.
Mattoon coach Jarod Kiger knew the early part of the season would be a challenge.
“Our biggest thing right now is I started this game with two guys that have ever played varsity baseball,” Mattoon coach Jarod Kiger said. “Austin (Baker) and Meade (Johnson) are the only two guys that have ever taken varsity at-bats for me. As you start off with a young and inexperienced team, you’re going to have some mistakes and that’s the things we’re trying to work through.”
Centennial scored early and often in the first of the doubleheader, scoring four first-inning runs and 10 overall through four innings before Gavin Gonzalez scored on an error by Chargers catcher Seth Gossett. Of four Centennial errors, only one was costly which led to an unearned run.
That wasn’t the case in the second game where the Green Wave committed seven errors that contributed to four unearned runs.
“It was tough first game,” Kiger said. “They jumped on us early in that first one. That kid pitched a nice game. Not really overpowering, but, man, he hit some spots. He put us in a tough spot. Our kids battled. I’m most proud of you don’t quit and play hard until the end. That mentality took us into the second game. Austin gave us a nice little boost on the mound.”
Baker walked off the mound as the first inning ended, in the second game pumped up after striking out two of the three Centennial outs.
The senior then started the offense for Mattoon, doubling to left and driving in Gonzalez, who had reached earlier on a single, that gave Mattoon a 1-0 lead. Baker was subbed out for courtesy runner Jason Skocy at second. Blaine Powers singled to drive in both Luke Perry, who reached on a walk, and Skocy to make it 3-0.
“We started out strong,” Baker said. “First two, three innings were really solid for the team as a whole and myself, pitching-wise. We lost our momentum and fell off pitching a little bit. It’s part of the game and we have to get back at it the next game.”
Errors then hurt Mattoon.
Trailing 7-1, Centennial scored three runs in the fourth aided by two errors.
In the fifth, Centennial’s Danny Lack smacked a 1-2 pitch back to Baker ,who bobbled the ball but didn’t get it to first in time. The Green Wave senior disagreed with the call. Lack scored on another Baker error to make it 7-5.
Mattoon committed seven total in the second game.
“I’m an emotional player,” Baker said. “I’m vocal, I like to get the team moving. Sometimes, I don’t always agree with umpires are saying when it’s safe or out. It’s all about the game. You just have to shake it off and get back at it the next pitch.”
Centennial took the lead after scoring six runs in the sixth taking that made it 11-8.
“They’re a really competitive team, and I appreciate that,” Baker said. “We got lackadaisical with our hitting and didn’t drive the ball as we did in the first couple innings.”
Kiger liked what he saw from Baker, who struck out six and allowed four hits across five innings. Only one of the five runs scored off the left-hander was earned.
“He gave us some life,” Kiger said. “He had good spots on his fastball and was really able to control the tempo of the game. That’s what you look for out of a guy that who’s going to be one of your top two on any team. To see the pop in bat where he had three doubles. I tried to send him to third, and wanted to see him get a triple. We just looked at each other and laughed and off we went. You get a guy like whose got such a hot bat, an energetic player where the team feed off that. He’s a great senior leader for us, which is something I think will help us as we move forward.”
Kiger understands that an inexperienced team is going to make mistakes. He said they’ll address them Monday.
“I told them that on Monday we’ll fix some of those mistakes and continue to get better,” Kiger said. “May first is our first conference game and that’s momentum we want and to get some of those things figured out. We don’t know where guys are going to fit in, and we’ll be moving some guys around. We’ve got guys that are playing positions that aren’t natural. Our kid at third for us today is a natural shortstop but based on certain things was willing to move over. We have a lot of team guys that are willing to do whatever needs to be done and I think that’s going to take us a long way.”
Johnson and Baker, Kiger said, are setting an example for the underclassmen.
“The thing is their leadership has been incredible for us,” Kiger said. “In practices we’ve had as far as getting guys moving and being kind of an extra coach on the field when we’re working on another position. You see those guys working with younger guys and it just shows who they are as a character type thing. We’ve got as good as a one-two punch on the mound as anybody. What we have to do is get that defense behind them. As a pitcher, it’s frustrating when you have to throw extra pitches when you shouldn’t have to throw.”
Baker, wearing a smile throughout the day, kept his team’s errors in perspective.
“You just have to keep your head up,” Baker said. “I mean baseball is a game of failure. You’re going to fail all the time. You’re going to lose all the time. You have to make sure you keep a better attitude and hope you play better.”
Gonzalez and Baker each had three hits in the second game, and Andrew Coffey collected two.
The Green Wave (0-2) are back in action Tuesday, traveling to Marshall.