By BEN JOHNSON
Four times Connor Mutzig made contact while up to bat against Salina. Three times the ball didn’t leave the infield — twice it didn’t have to.
He was productive, nonetheless.
His third at-bat was a sacrifice squeeze, which scored Lane Cobb, the go-ahead run in what turned out to be an 11-6 victory for Tahlequah on Monday afternoon.
“They were pretty productive AB’s for being so little,” Mutzig admitted.
Mutzig’s bunt to Salina pitcher Kyle Johnson in the fifth inning rolled up near the pitching mound, forcing Johnson to either throw to first for an out or look Cobb back to third base. Johnson chose to get the out at first, allowing Cobb to race home and give the Tigers the lead for good.
“He did a job of getting a sac bunt down,” Zodrow said. “With runners on first and third, we did a safety squeeze, and it worked to perfection.”
Mutzig’s other productive at-bat without getting a ball out of the infield was in the fourth frame. The senior first baseman tried to advance both Austin Riley and Stephen Wheeler up 90 feet, but instead Mutzig’s bunt got past Salina pitcher Dillon Gardner and rolled to a vacant area near where shortstop Brett Kerns should have been, allowing Mutzig to reach base safely.
That set up a three-run inning for the Tigers, pulling them even with Salina at five runs apiece after four innings were in the books.
“We knew with the wind blowing out, and their guy wasn’t going to overpower us, we just had to keep grinding away and hope somebody came up with the big hit,” said Zodrow, whose team scored all three runs in the fourth inning with two outs, courtesy of a two-run single by Houston Glad and a fly ball by Logan Lewis, which was dropped by Salina left fielder Colton Burgess.
“Then what really broke it loose was Ben Stacey’s two-out RBI hit in the second inning. We hadn’t had one of those in a long time, and it lifted the spirits in our dugout. It kind of relaxed everybody.”
Early on, Class 3A No. 5 Salina (11-7) looked like it was going to be on cruise control en route to snapping a brief two-game losing streak.
The Wildcats tallied one run apiece in the first and second innings before posting a two-spot in the third inning. Bret Fite and Jake Tolbert were Salina’s offensive catalysts during the early stages, both recording two RBIs in the first handful of innings.
Combined, Fite and Tolbert went 4 for 7 with four runs batted in. Salina finished with 10 hits, however only two came after the fourth inning.
That’s when Tahlequah took over.
The Tigers went on a late-game scoring binge, scoring five runs in the sixth inning to put the game away. The deciding blow came on Mutzig’s two-run single to center field.
“He didn’t hit that ball hard, but it fell in for him,” Zodrow said of Mutzig, who finished the game 2 for 3 with three runs driven in.
Once Tahlequah caught up and took the lead, it rode the right arm of Glad, who tossed the final three innings to pick up the victory. He only gave up two hits (both in the seventh inning) while issuing one run (unearned) to go along with four strikeouts and one walk.
“We hadn’t played in a week, so I was just trying to get those guys innings,” Zodrow said of Glad, who came on in relief of Wheeler, who gave up five runs (four earned) on eight hits in four innings of work. “Houston is tough no matter who it’s against. He’s a handful.”
The victory for Tahlequah snapped a five-game losing streak, which dated back to March 19 in the Aggie Classic in Pensacola, Fla.
“We did a lot of the little things right,” Zodrow said. “We took extra bases on balls in the dirt, and we got RBI hits with two outs. A couple of things started going our way. It was one of the few games where we played the game right.”
Mutzig said it was a matter of getting offensive production.
“I feel like our bats are coming together more,” said Mutzig, whose team will take on Salina Friday on the road.