The Marshfield varsity baseball squad may have ended their season with a state sectional loss to Helias Catholic, but for most of the team’s coaches and players, that wasn’t enough baseball to satisfy.
The majority of the team reconvened for summer league play, which kicked off on Thursday with a tournament in St. Louis. The Marshfield Baseball Club battled through four games across the weekend, coming away with a 3-1 record in the Missouri Valley Invitational but getting held out of championship play by circumstances beyond their control.
“We picked up right where we left off,” said William Pate, the varsity Jays head coach who continued his role with the summer league team. “There was no break at all.”
On Thursday, they played two games at McKendree University, besting a team out of Collinsville, Illinois, dubbed Extreme Elite in a 10-2 rout in the morning, but falling to Nebraska Prospects (out of Elkhorn, Nebraska) 7-4 in the afternoon.
Against the former, Marshfield got up early with a pair of walks and hits from Thomas McIllwain, Jackson Vestal, Parker Dinwiddie and Ben Casterlin, generating a trio of runs for the team in the first inning. They tacked on another three in the third, and closed out with one run in the fifth and three more in the sixth.
On the mound, Ethan Grace, who just finished his sophomore year at MHS, held it down for the boys in blue. Grace threw 10 strikeouts across six innings, and allowed only two runs.
The Marshfield club rode their momentum from that victory into a strong opening assault against the Nebraska Prospects later that Thursday. Though they gave up a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning, the Jays responded with three of their own in the top of the second. A double by recent MHS graduate Truett Gardner set the stage for the offensive push in that inning, and hits by Dinwiddie, Landon Wilson and Logan Crum each moved Marshfield’s score up a notch.
Two innings later, Gardner drove in a fourth run with a sacrifice grounder. Unfortunately for Marshfield, that 4-2 lead couldn’t last into the final innings of the game.
On the mound, Vestal largely kept Nebraska contained, but a high pitch count began to take its toll and a series of walks in the bottom of the fifth inning allowed the team to catch up, making it a 4-4 contest. The wheels came off after Vestal was replaced on the mound in the bottom of the sixth, though. Two walks were followed by a triple and double from Nebraska hitters to ratchet up the team’s score to seven, and the Jays couldn’t mount a response to close the three run gap in the top of the following inning.
Despite the loss, Pate was encouraged by the level of competition his club put up against a team that was largely pieced together with some of the best players in the Omaha, Nebraska, area.
“Everybody on that Nebraska team is committed to a Division 1 through a Division 3 school, so they’re definitely a very solid team,” said Pate.
The following day, the Marshfield squad bounced back by overcoming St. Louis area team, Southside Prospects, in a tight 4-3 victory at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). That contest came down to a Southside error that advanced Marshfield player Dustin Mitchell across the plate in the bottom of the sixth. RBIs by Vestal and Crum earlier in the game kept Marshfield knotted with their opponent at three before that sixth-inning score put the team over the top. McIllwain and Dinwiddie commanded the mound in that outing, combining for six strikeouts.
A decisive 11-3 Saturday victory against the Jefferson City team Central Missouri Phenom’s Scout Black positioned Marshfield for a Sunday run at the tournament championship, but weather had other plans for the boys. In Saturday’s game, held at Lindenwood University, Marshfield disentangled themselves from a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the fourth, going off for five runs in that half-inning and securing a mercy-rule victory in the bottom of the fifth with three more.
A scheduled Sunday game against the Missouri Bulls out of Cape Girardeau was confounded by field conditions, and the tournament came to an anti-climactic close, with the division winner being determined by seeding. Marshfield, in the lower number six seed, were shuffled off and returned home with a 3-1 record.
It’s an impressive first showing for a Marshfield club that is unique among summer league teams in its roster makeup. Whereas most teams hand-pick their players through tryouts of area athletes, the Marshfield squad is exclusively compiled of MHS students, essentially acting as a continuation of the school’s spring varsity team.