Two-out walks proved costly for the Le Mars baseball team as the Bulldogs dropped a back-and-forth, 11-7 contest to visiting Bishop Heelan on Tuesday in Le Mars.
"I think we gave them too many opportunities to score runs," Le Mars coach Trent Eckstaine said. "A couple times we got two-out walks and we'd back it up with another walk or a hit or something like that. We need to make sure we bear down in that situation and take care of it."
After Le Mars put up a four-spot in the bottom of the sixth to reclaim the lead at 7-5, Heelan used two more walks and five hits against reliever Aaron Fischer in the top of the seventh to put up a six-spot and claim the non-conference victory.
"Not being able to finish the deal - (that's) not a good thing," Eckstaine said. "We should be able to close things out and that's one of the things we've been struggling with."
But for Crusaders coach Andy Osborne, the repeated comebacks were a welcome sign from a team that has hovered around the .500 mark most of the summer.
"We haven't been doing that much this year," Osborne said. "It was kind of what we've been looking for because we've got talented players and kids that can play baseball pretty well. We haven't played very well."
Fischer suffered the loss on the mound as the senior allowed six runs on five hits in 2/3 of an inning.
"Fischer's been throwing good strikes for us and I have a lot of confidence in Fischer to get the deal done," Eckstaine said. "It (just) wasn't his night."
Yet for the first five innings, this one had all the makings of a first-rate pitchers' duel.
Le Mars got on the board in the bottom of the first as Fischer doubled and scored for the 1-0 lead. The 'Dogs added two more in the third when Zach Lancaster worked a leadoff walk, stole second and scored on an RBI single from Fischer, who later scored on an error for the 3-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Baue cruised through the Heelan order for the first three innings. Baue issued back-to-back two-out walks to Sean Rowbury and Alex Callahan in the fourth inning and both came home on an RBI single from David Kerian.
It stayed 3-2 until the top of the sixth when Baue again issued back-to-back two-out walks - this time to Callahan and AJ Staiert. Kerian singled home Callahan and Staiert scored on an RBI single by Lee Noel. Kerian came home when Dylan Shoemaker was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and the Crusaders led 5-3.
"We've struggled against guys we felt like we should hit hard," Osborne said. "(Baue's) not an overpowering pitcher, but he was spotting up and doing what he wanted to do...The third time through the order is when we finally got to him and that's baseball."
Le Mars wasted little time reclaiming the lead in the bottom of the inning. Jay Penning led off with a double and Taylor Oetken followed with a walk. Then Zach Lancaster ripped a two-RBI triple down the right field line and scored on a wild pitch. Keaton Rowe reached on a fielder's choice and scored on an RBI double by Tyler Candor to make it 7-5.
"That was big hit," Eckstaine said the triple from his second baseman. "Those are hits that we need. That got us the lead and put us back on top and those are things we've needed the past few nights...that was good to see."
But Fischer could not hold the lead as Heelan opened the floodgates by pounding out five of their 14 hits in the final frame to put the game away.
"We played pretty much mistake-free baseball," Eckstaine said. "We got timely hitting when we needed it and we got big outs. We just need to make sure we finish the deal."
Another meeting between the teams in the postseason is not a far-fetched proposition. Should Le Mars get by MOC-Floyd Valley and Heelan beat Sergeant Bluff-Luton in first-round action, the two teams would meet for the district championship.
"We'll probably run into them somewhere along the line - we usually do come district (tournament)," Eckstaine said. "We'll see when we come back around."
Heelan has ended Le Mars' season in the playoffs the past two seasons and Osborne said the rivalry is palpable.
"They get up to play us and we get up to play them," he said. "Every game we play against Le Mars is like this - it's a dogfight and they go back and forth."
Fischer 2-for-4 at the plate with two runs scored and an RBI. Candor had an RBI double and Lancaster scored twice and drove in two with his triple. Penning also had a pair of hits as Le Mars tallied eight for the contest.
Le Mars (9-9, 5-5) faces Sheldon at home on Wednesday. The Orabs defeated the 'Dogs 19-0 in four innings on June 3.