Rangers regret energy deficit in one-run defeat

Herald Sports Writer

FERDINAND — Forest Park coach Jarred Howard needed only a long pause and short question to summarize the Rangers’ night Thursday at Ferdinand.

“Which team had more enthusiasm?” Howard asked.

The fact he had to ask is a good enough hint that the answer wasn’t his Rangers. It wasn’t the team with the starting pitcher who twice escaped bases-loaded jams relatively unscathed. It wasn’t the team that smacked a pair of home runs, or that committed just one error.

The team with more pep in its step was visiting Boonville and while Howard admits that it wasn’t the only factor in the Rangers’ 6-5 setback, it certainly didn’t lend any favors.

“Before the game even started, we take it around the infield and we have to have a discussion about enthusiasm and wanting to play and then you saw it during the game,” Howard said. “We made big plays, got out of some big innings — (but) no enthusiasm. From anybody.”

That was no more evident that in the final inning. With the game tied at 5 heading into the seventh, the Boonville bench spent both sides of the inning in a screaming frenzy. They cheered when Devon Franz whacked the go-ahead RBI double off Ranger reliever Trent Bayer (0-2), and they poured onto the infield after Bryan Hurst grounded out to halt any potential rally.

And in that same span, crickets from Forest Park (2-5).

“They had a fantastic pitcher (in Dylan Browning) on the mound that gave us more than we could handle at the plate, but we should have never been in that situation to begin with and we made plays for the most part,” Howard said. “But I’m frustrated with our mental approach. We’ve got eight seniors and they have to take ownership of the team in doing things right and having some enthusiasm.

“And that doesn’t win or lose ballgames, but it sure does make it a lot more fun if our guys have enthusiasm,” he added.

It was the Rangers’ third one-run loss this season after opening with 3-2 and 5-4 defeats to Evansville Mater Dei and Tecumseh, respectively. And while Howard said he can’t pinpoint exactly what’s causing the Rangers late-game falters, the loss didn’t take away from a quality pitching performance from starter Jared Wilgus.

“I really felt that Jared threw fantastic,” Howard said. “That’s one positive. That’s the longest he’s thrown having a good, quality start, and I thought he did.”

The senior gave up seven hits but delivered his best stuff with the pressure building. Twice in the first two innings Wilgus found himself battling batters with bases loaded. He yielded two runs in the first before forcing Chase Waters to ground into a 6-4-3 double play — one of two twin-killings the Rangers executed. In the second, he dodged another threat when the Pioneers (5-4) flew out to right field to leave three men stranded. Wilgus didn’t allow any extra-base hits and left with a 5-3 lead.

It was Boonville’s reliever who triggered the most trouble for the Rangers. Forest Park belted seven hits in five innings off Pioneer starter Jeffrey Sharp, including home runs from Alec Hassfurther and Cody Tempel. Hassfurther’s two-run blast to dead center in the first inning continued his hot start to the season — he entered Thursday’s game with a team-leading .467 batting average — and the other bomb came in the fourth from Tempel (2-for-3, two runs scored) on a line-drive shot over the left-field wall with one man on.

“That felt good,” Tempel said about his second home run of the season. “We really are a pretty good hitting team.”

But over the final three innings, when Boonville racked up three runs to take the lead, Forest Park converted just two hits. Its best chance to regain the lead came in the sixth with the game tied 5-all. Bryce Bettag belted his first hit of the evening with a stand-up double and moved to third after Browning walked the next two batters. Hassfurther (2-for-3, two RBIs) grounded out to short to end the inning.

“I think we’ve improved, but we still have things to fix and once we get our vibe going, we should just keep going and try to close out games,” Tempel said. “That’s really what kind of hurts us sometimes.”

That, and the occasional dearth of energy. It’s all part of a team working to build some mental fortitude.

“Toughness and our mental ability (is what we need to work on),” Tempel said. “Once we get down and once teams start yelling and getting huge vibes, we need to calm down and really just focus and make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to get through the inning.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli

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