Rangers keep it simple, and powerful yields follow

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

FERDINAND — So, Alec Hassfurther is pretty strong.

During football season, the Forest Park senior was pumping three bills on the bench press. OK, 295. But you get the picture.

Hassfurther has worked as a mason for three years, a trade that presumably lists “jacked” as a requisite attribute. But for some reason, as hard as he swung on that first-pitch curveball in the sixth inning Thursday night in Ferdinand, he couldn’t seem to muster more than a soft squibber to the third baseman.

Hassfurther

All that muscle, some 60 feet of pop to show for it.

“I thought I was due, but I guess not,” Hassfurther said with a smile.

In a way, he was. His first three at-bats in Forest Park’s 10-4 cuffing of Crawford County had all served as testimony to what Ranger coach Jarred Howard termed the “three-year process with him,” as the brawny catcher has strove to simplify the swing.

Don’t lunge. Let the ball come. And attack with aplomb.

“The thing about Alec is, when Alec is swinging it well, he doesn’t try to do too much,” Howard said. “He’s a big, strong kid, and he just tries to barrel the ball up. And if he does that, if he tries to hit the ball hard — he tried to hit one ball hard tonight and it never got out of the infield … but the balls that he’s hit the hardest this year have been with a real simple swing.”

So when Hassfurther sat back on a third-pitch curve in his first at-bat, he belted an opposite-field double that one-hopped the right-center field wall. Two innings later, he stayed compact and peppered a scorcher that never got higher than 25 feet, again to right-center where it dented the fence halfway up. And finally in the fourth, a barrel-of-the-bat single back to the worn-out alley in right field that gave Hassfurther his second RBI.

Bayer

Three condensed cuts. Three tattooed shots.

“It’s finally clicking,” Hassfurther surmised.

The strive for simplification has been a teamwide theme for the Rangers (3-6). Howard sent out a text message to his squad earlier in the week reminding them, “Guys, we should be 6-2,” considering the Rangers’ three one-run losses and their two-run loss to Southridge last Friday. Plus, he underlined that of the 45 runs yielded by his team, 28 had come via walks or errors.

“We’re better than our record says that we are. But it doesn’t matter because we are who we are right now,” Howard said. “And I told our guys, if we would throw strikes, and if we would hit the ball, and just catch the ball, I thought we would be a lot better team. I think with our guys, it’s not that they haven’t tried. We’ve got a bunch of good kids that are working hard at it. And sometimes I think maybe they were trying too hard to do stuff right.”

Against the Wolfpack, the message seemed to sink in, particularly with Ranger starter Trent Bayer, who issued a complete-game effort stocked with 10 strikeouts and just one walk. The first inning was a bit herky-jerky, as Hassfurther and Bayer both committed throwing errors on tosses to first base. But from there, the Rangers committed just one error, which Bayer sidestepped with a nifty escape.

When the Wolfpack’s Brandon Cate singled to lead off the sixth inning and stole second, Hassfurther’s throw rolled into center field and under Bryce Bettag’s glove, allowing Cate to scoot to third with no outs.

Then Bayer went to work. Ahead 1-2, he painted the outside corner with gas for a called third strike. Next batter: three pitches, capped again with a called fastball. And finally, Bayer issued Phil Walton a diving 2-2 curve that sent Walton packing for the third time and Crawford County back to the field having stranded a runner on third for the fourth time.

The Ranger senior threw strikes, including the curve on several deliveries, and pitched out of some key spots, leaving Howard to declare “that’s the best he’s looked this year.”

And with the pitching came the bats — 15 hits altogether for the Rangers, including three singles by Josh Voegerl (two runs, two RBIs), two from Jaxon Cronin and a single and a triple by Ben Wendholt, who Howard said “couldn’t buy a hit” through two weeks of solid connection.

After a Monday rainout denied the Rangers a chance to snap their three-game skid, Thursday evening offered the confidence boost Howard sees as vital for a squad eying five games in the next seven days, starting with Pocket Athletic Conference foe Gibson Southern tonight in Fort Branch.

Thursday’s effort furnished some fun, too, as the Ranger dugout clapped in unison to Jimmy Cliff’s “I Can See Clearly Now” during the fifth inning.

“Nothing against (Crawford County), but just beating up the board really helps everybody,” Hassfurther said. “We were down for a while. We were playing good ball, putting the ball in play but everything wasn’t coming together. Games like this help everybody re-instill the fun into the game. And that’s what it’s all about.”

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