TAHLEQUAH – The Tahlequah Tigers baseball team got started their season off with a bang, clouting four homeruns and banging out 16 hits on their way to a major 16-12 Metro Lakes Conference victory over defending Class 5A state champion Claremore Saturday afternoon at Phoenix Park.

Tahlequah (1-0) fell behind in the top of the first with senior Erik Juilfs, out for baseball for the first time since his freshman season, allowing an unearned run.

Head Coach Brett Hamby’s Tigers had not hit well in their scrimmages, but came through when it counted. Tahlequah scored six runs in the bottom of the first.

Catcher Brad Shankle started things off with a one out walk. Bret Wilmon quickly gave the Tigers the lead with a two-run home run.

Clean-up hitter Juilffs drew a walk with Jacob Etzkorn coming in as the courtesy runner for the senior pitcher. Etzkorn would only have to do some courtesy trotting however, as freshman first baseman Josh Linn made his first at bat as a Tiger a memorable one, blasting a home run in his first plate appearance. Linn’s circuit clout put Tahlequah up 4-1.

The Tigers weren’t finished. Freshman Wes Newman singled in his first at bat with Jarrod Killer following with a base on balls. A catcher’s interference call sent another new starter, Caleb Armstrong to first to load the bases. Spider Miller atoned for a strikeout to lead off the inning by knocking a single up the middle, driving in Newman and Killer and moving the Tiger lead to 6-1.

Juilfs pitched two perfect innings to hold the Zebras in check while the Tigers increased their lead to 9-1.

Wilmon started off a two run second inning with a single. Linn became the first player in Tahlequah baseball history to hit home runs in his first two at bats, blasting another Claremore offering over the wall to put the Tigers up 8-1.

Again Wilmon started off a scoring inning, this time with a one out single in the third. Juilfs was hit by a pitch and with Linn already doing major damage, the Zebras showed the freshman the respect due a veteran hitter by giving him an intentional walk to load the bases. That strategy backfired when Newman coaxed a walk, sending Wilmon trotting home to put the Tigers up 9-1 after three.

Claremore battled back with a five spot in the top of the fourth to get within 9-6, but Tahlequah would answer with six of their own in the home half of the inning.

Armstrong started the fun with a single, followed by a Jeremy Hamby walk.

Speedy centerfielder Jayce Miller laid down a bunt to sacrifice the runners, but a throwing error found “Spider” on second base with Armstrong and Hamby crossing the plate. Wilmon reached on a walk and the Tigers went yard again. This time the hero was the pitcher Juilfs who helped himself out with a three-run blast that put Tahlequah in front 14-6.

Linn reached base again, this time by drawing a base on balls. Newman singled and Killer walked to load the bases. Armstrong came through with a single to plate Greg Jackson who was pinch-running for Linn.

The Tigers led 15-6 heading into the visitor’s half of the fifth. The defending state champions plated two runs in the inning, but Tahlequah got one run back in the bottom of the fifth.

Shankle led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Linn completed his phenomenal debut with a double off of the wall, sending Shankle home and increasing the lead to 16-8.

Juilfs ran out of gas in his first prolonged pitching performance of the season, allowing four more Zebra runs in the top of the sixth, but senior Jacob Etzkorn came on to record the final out of the inning to keep the Tigers in front, 16-12.

Etzkorn pitched a perfect seventh inning to pick up the save.

Juilfs was the winner, going five and one-third innings, striking out seven and walking only three.

The Tigers defense committed five errors, but still picked up the big win.

“We made some mistakes but we overcame them” said Hamby. “The kids were really up for the game and were excited to finally play a real game. It got a little nerve racking there for a little bit, but it was a fun win.”

Hitting starts for the Tigers were Wilmon 3-4, 4 runs, 2 rbi, 1 HR. Juilfs 1-2, 2 runs, 3 rbi, 1 HR. Linn 3-3, 2 runs, 5 rbi, 2 HR. Newman 2-3, and Armstrong 3-4.

Tahlequah is scheduled to face Fort Gibson today at Phoenix Park. The first pitch is set for 4 p.m.

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