Rangers retreat in vexing search for consistency

Herald Sports Writer

FERDINAND — Twenty-four hours can make all the difference, as the Forest Park baseball team found out Friday night. But then again, erratic results have become a familiar thing for the Rangers this season.

After whipping Crawford County by eight runs Thursday, the Rangers returned home for a Pocket Athletic Conference clash with Gibson Southern. And as favorable as the results were for the Rangers the night before, the subsequent outcome — a 12-2 thumping by the Titans — furthered Forest Park’s vexing season of inconsistency.


The Rangers (7-7, 2-2 Pocket Athletic Conference) haven’t strung together more than two straight wins all year. At the same time, they haven’t dropped more than two in a row either.

As Ranger coach Jarred Howard stated plainly, “We’re still learning who we are, honestly.”

Yet after the six-inning contest Friday, Howard and his players provided an air of relative calm. Sure, the Rangers mustered just four hits, including a single and a double to lead off the contest, but evaluating the production goes beyond the batter’s box, Howard said.

How far beyond? Sixty feet, six inches is a good place to start.

Titan starter Lucas Lantrip continually baffled Ranger batters in his six innings on the mound, using a 60-to-40 curveball-to-fastball ratio, by Ranger center fielder Lance Buechler’s estimation.

“His breaking ball was probably one of the best we’ll see all year,” the senior said.

Lantrip rang up six different Rangers in totaling eight strikeouts altogether, and ended the game delivering a breaking ball that Cody Tempel could only watch plunge back into the strike zone.

“I mean, he threw us backwards,” Howard said, explaining how Lantrip relied on breaking pitches early in the count as opposed to following a series of fastballs. “Any time in high school, if you can get a guy throwing backwards, and he’s mixing a fastball. I mean, he’s got a good fastball. But by gosh, when you only see it once or twice in the at-bat, it’s hard to hit.”

Just ask Andy Schlachter. The freshman, who has been scorching the ball on JV, received his first varsity start as the designated hitter. His first at-bat: curveball, curveball, fastball, for a three-pitch strikeout.

“He’s hitting, like, .750 on JV, and we kept wondering, well, what are we going to do with him? And I wanted to give him an opportunity. It was a bad night to give him an opportunity,” Howard said with a chuckle.

One element of the Ranger lineup, however, wasn’t hampered much by Lantrip’s staunch stuff. Adam Braunecker continued his hot hitting with two singles and scored the Rangers’ first run of the opening frame on a Buechler triple to the gap in right-center field.

Howard attributes Braunecker’s torrid streak at the plate to his relaxed recognition of pitches. It’s an uncomplicated philosophy.

“He has been unbelievable. He’s been one of the hottest hitters I’ve had. He’s been one of our best hitters all year,” the 13th-year coach said.

“He’s done a great job of staying inside the ball. He’s not in a hurry to get to it. He lets the ball travel to him and stays back and hits it.”

Between Thursday and Friday, Braunecker accrued four hits, including a home run and a double, while driving in four runs.

As substantial as the shortstop’s surge has been, his simplistic approach presents quite the dichotomy.

“I’ve just been working on hitting the ball where the pitch has been pitched,” the soft-spoken Braunecker explained. “If it’s inside, I’ve tried to pull it. If it’s down and away or a curveball, I try and go middle or opposite field.”

Meanwhile, Forest Park’s night in the field wasn’t so cut and dry.

Mental blunders augmented the pop from Titan bats, which delivered 15 hits. It wasn’t that the defense was completely faulty — Forest Park committed just one error — but the blips happened when they simply couldn’t be afforded.

After Lantrip rocketed a ball to deep right-center with the Rangers trailing 5-2 in the fifth, Buechler — then playing second base — retrieved the cutoff throw and immediately fired home with a somewhat faint chance of beating the runner to the plate. Meanwhile, Lantrip used the throw as an opportunity to advance to third. The next batter then lined a soft blooper just past the infield to plate Lantrip.

In the sixth, when Gibson Southern (7-4, 3-1) tallied five runs on six hits while ultimately leaving the bases loaded, miscommunication stung the Rangers once again. A fly ball descended in shallow left field as Braunecker raced from shortstop and Tempel jaunted in from left. Instead of having the outfielder make the face-forward play, Braunecker attempted a sliding catch with his back to home plate. The ball dropped and another run scored.

Remedying the gaffes will emerge fundamentally from doing less, Braunecker said.

“We just need to slow the game down, and just make the everyday play,” he said.

Now just past the regular season’s halfway point and back to .500 for the third time, the Rangers must remain cognizant of a clear yet extended truth: “It’s a process,” Braunecker said.

Buechler sang a similar refrain. If the Rangers play within themselves in the field and dictate play at the plate — twenty of the Rangers’ 24 at-bats took four pitches or less — good things are sure to arise.

“We just need to be more consistent,” Buechler said. “If we get some guys battling on the mound, if we make the everyday play — not the spectacular play, just the everyday play — and just put the ball in play, put pressure on them, and make them play at our level, we can be tough to beat. But right now, we’re just so up and down and you never know which team is going to show up.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

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