Simple-minded Rangers heed order for ordinary

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

FERDINAND — In the Forest Park baseball dugout, striving to be ordinary is just fine.

Hassfurther

For a Ranger team whose season has been defined in incremental progress instead of mammoth strides, that’s the mission that’s exhaustively repeated: Just shoot to make the ordinary play.

Forest Park coach Jarred Howard made the argument that his team’s 4-2 trumping of Heritage Hills on Friday in Lincoln City was a bit too subdued. Regardless, the sum of simplicity looked divine to Howard.

Starter Trent Bayer kept the Patriots off-kilter. Reliever Adam Braunecker threw strikes. The Rangers played error-free defense. And fittingly, on a no-frills evening, shortstop Ben Wendholt looked a high popup in his glove for the night’s final out.

“He always says, ”˜We don’t need the extra, we need the ordinary,’” Ranger catcher Alec Hassfurther said. “The guys now know if you do the little things right — put the ball in play, make the everyday plays, you don’t have to make the diving catches, the fancy plays — you’ll put yourself in a good spot to win. Especially when you have pitchers who can throw strikes. It all goes hand in hand.”

And that all went awry a night earlier, when the Rangers afforded too many pitching and fielding gifts to Hancock County (Ky.) in allowing six runs over the fifth and sixth innings in a one-run defeat.

Bayer — the last of five guys on the pitching carousel Thursday — tossed the final inning of that game and was saddled with the loss after giving up the tiebreaking run. Back on the hill a night later, Bayer scattered three hits in 3 1/3 innings. When his control wobbled, Braunecker entered. And precision followed.

The senior winged 35 of his 48 pitches for strikes. The Patriots (11-11, 4-2 Pocket Athletic Conference) managed to bring the go-ahead run to the plate with one out, but Brauncker coaxed two popouts. Howard praised Braunecker, who also walked and scored twice, for being “absolutely outstanding for us all year” — and he was just the antidote the Rangers (10-9, 3-2) needed to avoid what’s been an intermittent hangup this season.

“We’ve given away three or four games this year to the other teams by either not throwing strikes or not making everyday plays, not taking care of us. All year, we’ve talked about taking care of us,” Howard said. “We let one get away from us (Thursday) night, and they responded well.”

Howard acknowledged it seemed there were “innings where everybody was going through the motions — us and them.” Between Ben Wendholt’s RBI single and Lance Buechler’s deep-carrying double that chased home two runs to end a 2-all tie, Hassfurther supplied one of the night’s rare jolts.

To lead off the second, Hassfurther boomed a solo homer that bisected the flagpole and scoreboard in left-center. The junior is hitting in the .300s, but knows his average can be in the .500 range, and he wants to be more like the hitter he was a year ago, when he was fifth in the lineup.

Lately, Hassfurther has been hitting eighth in the order, with the hope that he can see more fastballs. He’s not simply sitting back and relying on variables to improve his hitting, though. Every chance he gets, Hassfurther’s doing something to touch up his footwork and plate approach.

“Saturdays when we don’t have games I’ll call (Howard) up and we’ll hit here, and I’ll go hit with friends or do whatever I can. Even if it’s cuts in the backyard, having my little cousin soft-tossing to me,” Hassfurther said. “Just anything I can do to keep working on what (Coach) tells me to.”

Hassfurther’s bomb nudged the Rangers closer to a game that both rivals needed.

As the regular season creeps toward its final stages, neither the Patriots nor the Rangers have won more than two straight games or dropped more than two consecutive all season. For Heritage Hills, which pounced within the opening two batters Friday when Tyler Ward doubled home Kenton Crews, things seem jammed in neutral.

After that initial strike, Patriot coach Dave Sensenbrenner said his team “just flat died after that.”

He said the schizophrenic form has been typical, and he’s wondering how the Pats can manage to bottle more of the high points.

“It’s flip a coin right now, we’re not getting any better,” Sensenbrenner said. “We didn’t swing the bats tonight, our pitching was OK, I thought (reliever Dugan Kippenbrock) came in and did a nice job for us. We’re just not in a flow of anything as far as anticipating balls being hit to us. We’re not in the flow of anything right now.

"I’ve never had a team like this struggling like this — play well one game and then be absolutely the opposite the next night. They’re learning a lot of things, I know that. Youth is part of that, but we’ve played 22 ballgames. Sooner or later you’ve got to put the jock on and start playing a little bit. ... We’ve got six games left to figure it out. If we don’t then we’ll be going home.”

The Rangers, meanwhile, weren’t about to label Friday as the paradigm of their best ball. Howard said his team can play better.

But they improved in an ordinary outing. And that’s progress.

“I’m real happy with a win; we’re getting better,” Howard said. “I think we’ve gotten better all year long. But I still think our best games are in front of us.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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