The sky was the color of a television turned to a dead channel.
The mist made everything, gloves, balls, base-paths slightly slick.
That was Friday night at Falcon Field where the now 14-11 Blair Oaks Falcons hosted the now 9-5 Centralia Panthers.
For five and a half innings Blair Oaks may have regretted the invitation.
They started the game with Blair Oaks starter Parker Bax walking Centralia’s lead-off, Gus Stidham, who did not waste much time stealing second and third.
Meanwhile, Bax also gave Brett Jones a free pass to first.
Then Caden Vanskike banged a deep one to center field. Though it was caught, it drove Stidham home and gave Centralia a one-run lead they kept for five and a half innings.
That was much to the frustration of the Falcons who loaded the bases at least three times, only to see dynamic catches by Vanskike – left field and Jared Holiman – center field, kill their drives with inning-ending catches.
Blair Oaks kept hitting and Centralia kept catching until the bottom of the sixth when Blair Oaks’ Nolan Hair hit one over the left field fence a foot beyond Vanskike’s outstretched glove.
A few moments later, a second home run and a missed throw at third allowed two more Blair Oaks runs.
Centralia closer Ben Schmidt stopped the bleeding but though Centralia got two on in the seventh, with strong hitters at the plate, they could not take back the game.
“We had base runners every inning,” said Falcons Head Coach. “Then finally we got Reed’s home run in the sixth was obviously what it took. We didn’t have a bad night offensively, we just couldn’t break through till the sixth. We left a lot of runners on.”
He said it was the type of game he expected from Centralia. “They’re a Class 4 school that has beaten a lot of tough teams this season. So we kind of expected them to be pretty tough and they were. They proved to be a pretty good team.”
Centralia Head Coach Michael Rodgers said the conclusion was not about defensive fatigue, but a misstep in Panther strategy.
“We got the ball to high in the strike zone and they a really good player who could hit it a long way,” he said. “We made an error that put the guy on third, but that home run put the nail in that situation’s coffin.”
When asked what he had expected from Blair Oaks, Rodgers was succinct, “That.”
He complimented Blair Oaks’ knowledge of the game and the Panther pitchers. “Evan Stidham did a great job, they had bases loaded two or three times and he kept us in the game. But we had to take him out because of his pitch count. Ben Schmidt did exactly what a closer is supposed to do. Our defense showed a lot of poise. Jared Holiman, Caden Vanskike, between them they saved us at least three runs. Jared’s catch, amazing.”
Centralia hosts Hallsville Monday and starts the district tournament Thursday in Montgomery County.