MELISSA – In a contest that was anybody’s game into the fifth inning, the Melissa Cardinals erupted late to takedown Anna, 9-2, on March 19 in the district opener for both teams. Hayden Schafer struck out 11 in long relief for the Cards and Melissa hitters eventually got to 11 hits, with eight coming off Coyotes starter Rawley Hector. The Cards plated two runs in the fourth, four in the fifth and three in the sixth to take control.


The loss was only the second of the season for Anna, against 14 wins. “Coming out against those guys, versus that pitcher [Hector], that’s tough,” Melissa head coach Jason Russell said. “We knew he was coming. We knew we were going to have to battle. We thought if we could grind out some bats we could get to him. We did that, and some balls fell our way tonight.”


Jayton Cepica belted a 2-RBI triple for the Cards (14-5) and teammate Dillon Youngblood swatted a double. Youngblood and Isaiah Segovia each went 2-for-3 at the plate with an RBI apiece while Cepica was 2-for-3 with 2 RBI. Trevor Brooks had a 2-for-4 night with an RBI, and Coy DeFury and Sean Turnage each collected an RBI on 1-for-2 efforts.


“[Hector] doesn’t make very many mistakes,” Russell said. “We hit some really good pitches. We hit somewhere he probably didn’t want to throw it. Hitting is contagious. Once we got that rolling a little bit, it kind of fed off of itself.”


Hector gave way to Jaden Torres with two outs in the fifth and Anna trailing, 5-0, after striking out five and walking one. Torres completed the game, with one strikeout and a walk while permitting three hits and three runs. Catcher Jacob Odom blasted a late 2-run homer for Anna while singles from Zach Howard and Michael Burnside provided the Coyotes’ other two hits.


Opportunity knocked early for Anna - then departed, as the Coyotes loaded the bases with no outs in the first and juiced them again in the second with two down, but didn’t plate a run. From there till the seventh inning, Anna would total two baserunners – both via walks.


“I thought Melissa did a good job of coming out and having a good approach,” Coyotes head coach Joey Hector said. “Their pitcher got in some trouble in the first innings and we didn’t capitalize. … We had some miscues on defense and that hurt us.


“You don’t take anything positive from a game like this. But at the same time, it’s over. We’re going to go talk about the things we did wrong, the freebies we gave them and the things we didn’t take advantage of. We’ll practice tomorrow and we’ll go about it like we’re 0-0. The most important game is the next one.”


Schafer came on for Melissa starter Grayson Hurst in the third and worked five strong innings, allowing two hits, three walks and two runs while tossing that bushel of Ks. “I’m really proud of Hayden Schafer for coming in,” Russell said. “We had a plan that didn’t go according to plan at all. He steps up and goes five strong and strikes out 11. That’s big time.”


Hurst’s two frames included four strikeouts and five walks while permitting one hit. Russell said the plan was for Hurst to go four or five innings, then go to Schafer. “We flipped that. … Grayson didn’t have his stuff, didn’t have his command. But he gets the bases loaded and no outs and finds a way to throw a zero. That’s what we talk about all the time. Your body’s not always going to feel great. … When you can play when you’re not comfortable, you have a chance to be pretty good.


“I have a ton of confidence in our pitching staff. We have a lot of quality arms. Sometimes that’s the way it’s going to happen. We’re always going to have a plan, though. We’ve got long relief, we’ve got a closer, and he might have to come in a little bit sooner than we anticipated.”


Melissa cracked the scoreboard in the fourth on Cepica’s line-drive single to left that scored courtesy runner Ian Keever. Keever, in for Brooks who singled to open the frame, had reached third on DeFury’s sacrifice bunt. Hector struck out the next batter for Out 2, but Turnage then slapped a 2-2 pitch into left field, scoring Cepica for a 2-0 Cards lead.


In the fifth, Melissa surged. Youngblood led off the frame with a single to the left side before Hector sat the next two Cards on a fly ball to center and a strikeout. Brooks then singled home Youngblood and reached second on the throw. DeFury followed and soon faced a 2-out, 2-2 pitch from Hector. After a close ball 3 call, Fury sent the next pitch into right field, scoring runner Keever and Melissa led 4-0. Next up, Cepica sent a triple to the right field wall, scoring DeFury, and Coach Hector went to Torres.


Segovia drove in one more on a single to third but a batter later Odom threw him out attempting to steal second, ending the inning.


Schafer retired the Coyotes in order in the sixth - including two strikeouts - and Melissa rolled some more in the bottom of the inning. Turnage walked and Schafer singled to right before Youngblood’s double to center field plated Turnage to make it 7-0. Hurst’s ground out to Jayden Rodgers at third then scored Benedetto and a Sam Crain sacrifice fly to right brought home Youngblood. Now down, 9-0, Torres struck out the next batter on three pitches to finish the frame.


The Coyotes’ two runs came in the seventh when Odom jacked his home run to left after Hector had walked with one out. Howard followed Odom’s shot with a single up the middle into center but Schafer would end it when Dylan Burr grounded out to Segovia at short.


The two teams face-off again on April 9 at Anna.


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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E


Anna 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 3 0


Melissa 0 0 0 2 4 3 X 9 11 0