The Benton Rangers opened up the season with a commanding 14-6 victory over the Du Quoin Indians on Monday.
The Rangers made quick work in the first inning as sophomore Dillon Poe and junior Tyler Butler reached on back-to-back base hits. Sophomore Kanon Cantrell drew a walk to load the bases and then sophomore Kael Pierce brought Poe and Butler around to score on a 2-run double. Pierce finished with a team-high four RBIs hitting from the No. 4 spot as the designated hitter.
“I think that getting off to that 2-0 lead really helped us because we’re a really young team and Du Quoin is a really young team,” said Benton coach Brett Blondi. “That kind of set a pretty good tone that we could relax a little bit and have some pretty good at-bats.”
Poe was dealing on Monday night, pitching three scoreless innings before surrendering his first run in the fourth. Du Quoin was able to get runners on base, but weren’t able to string together the hits that they needed, leaving five runners left on base through the first few innings.
“We just need to see more innings and live action,” said Du Quoin coach Kyle Geiger. “We’ve had a good couple weeks of practice hitting the ball but we just couldn’t put anything together at the beginning of the game.”
Owen Bradley was on the mound for the Indians, pitching three innings before getting pulled. After giving up two early run,s Bradley settled into a rhythm and pitched two scoreless innings before Benton exploded for an 8-run fourth inning. Eight of the nine guys in Benton’s lineup came across to score in an inning that consisted of six hits, three walks and a hit-by-pitch. The bottom of the order was able to load the bases which really fueled the Rangers' big inning that gave them a 10-0 lead.
The entire Benton lineup had a good day, and three juniors came up big for the Rangers. Tyler Butler reached base safely in all five of his at-bats, and scored a team-high three runs. Jaron Picklesimer finished 1 for 1 with a base hit and three walks. Blake Stewart drove in three runs and finished 3 for 4 at the plate hitting from the No. 9 spot.
The Indians were able to load the bases in the bottom of the fourth inning and put themselves in a position to cut into the 10-0 deficit. Junior Ethan Shepard put a routine double-play ball on the ground, which ended up scoring the Indians' first run of the game. On the play, the umpire ruled that Benton shortstop Gischer was interfered with by Du Quoin’s Konner Harris on the slide. The double play held up and led to junior Braeden Pursell getting thrown out at home plate to complete the triple play.
Bradley finished with four strikeouts, five walks and six earned runs before sophomore Brian Winters replaced him in the middle of that big fourth inning for Benton. Four more runs came around to score for the Rangers before Winters was able to punch out Gischer for the final out.
“As a young team this was a lot of these kids first varsity experience,” said Geiger. “I told them that we could have played more aggressive on defense and we’ll clean that up in practice but we’ll shake this one off and get back into it.”
Du Quoin was able to draw four straight walks to begin the fifth inning and ended up scoring four runs which cut the deficit to 14-6. Winters finished 2 for 3 at the plate for the Indians with a pair of base hits and a stolen base. They added on a another run in the sixth.
Benton’s next game will come at home on Tuesday against Carterville at 4:30 p.m.
Du Quoin won’t play again until Saturday when they travel to play a double-header against Herrin. Game times are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.