By BEN JOHNSON
It took Tahlequah almost two months to endure two district losses last season. It took only two games — in two days — this year.
Tahlequah’s stumble out of the season’s starting gate continued on Tuesday in an 8-2 setback in the Tigers’ home opener against Grove. Tahlequah fell to 0-3 overall and 0-2 in District 5A-3 on a cold and blustery day at Tiger Field.
“Give the credit to Grove. They flat out wanted it more,” Tahlequah coach Nick Zodrow said following a game in which his team recorded nearly more errors (five) than hits (six). “We have to chew our players out and challenge them after we’re down 5-0 for us to step up and start playing hard.”
After Zodrow’s stern message with his club already in a 5-0 hole through 2 1/2 innings, his club did respond with two runs. Logan Lewis and Austin Riley had back-to-back RBI doubles to get Class 5A No. 9 Tahlequah on the scoreboard, but that’s the only offense the Tigers could conjure the entire day.
Offense wasn’t an issue for Grove. The Ridgerunners (3-0, 2-0) jumped out on top in the first inning on Ty Morrow’s lead-off triple to center field and Gibson Russ’ sacrifice fly that followed moments later.
Grove padded its lead in the second frame on Kaden Livermore’s two-run double to right-center field, and Justin Tesreau’s sacrifice fly to center field.
From there, it was up to Russ to shut down the door on the Tigers. And that’s exactly what he did.
Grove’s right-handed hurler tossed a complete-game, six-hitter while recording eight strikeouts.
“He looks good,” Grove coach Bret Bouher said. “He just believes. His confidence level is pretty high.”
For good measure, Russ (2-0 on the mound this season) added a RBI triple to his stat line in Grove’s two-run sixth inning.
With the victory, Grove pulled off a season sweep of Tahlequah after beating the Tigers 2-1 on Monday.
For Tahlequah, its second district loss comes only five days into March. The Tigers’ second district loss last season didn’t occur until April 17 at Booker T. Washington.
“We’re already dug ourselves a big hole,” said Zodrow, who watched Colby Brittain take the loss on the pitching mound after allowing four runs in only two innings of work to start the game.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead, but we’ve got to start taking it one game at a time. But we’ve got to pretty much run the table to give ourselves a chance.”
Grove 8, Tahlequah 2
Grove 131 010 0 - 8 10 1
Tah 002 000 0 - 2 6 5
Grove: Gibson Russ and Justin Tesreau. Tahlequah: Colby Brittain (2), Brock Mitchell (4), Connor Mutzig (1) and Lane Cobb. WP: Russ (2-0). LP: Brittain.