GOREVILLE — There’s no Brodie Lenon to collect hits and win big games on the mound. There’s no Peyton Massey to run down everything in center field, and no Braden Webb to make game-defining plays with his glove, bat or feet.
It’s going to take this Goreville baseball team a little bit of time to figure things out, but coach Shawn Tripp is willing to play the long game in order to draw out its potential.
“We’re still searching for who needs to play where,” he said after a season-opening 5-2 loss Friday to Tuscola at Shadowens Field. “We lost nine players off last year’s team. We’ve still got some question marks to figure out.
“We’ve got a good start, but we’ll see what happens.”
Amid the doses of mid-March sloppiness you’d expect from any team – four errors, four wild pitches and 11 strikeouts at the plate – there were glimpses of hope for the Blackcats. Most notable was the performance they got from three pitchers.
Crab Orchard transfer Payton Miller started and allowed just two earned runs over 3 2/3 innings, fanning three and fetching a half-dozen outs via grounders. Landon Albright and Trent Glidewell relieved, each displaying live arms and combining for seven strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings.
Had Goreville made a couple of plays in the field during the Warriors’ two-run rallies in the second and fourth, it might have given itself a better chance to win. Max Wyninger’s fly ball to center got about a 60-foot boost from a strong wind blowing straight out and short-hopped the fence for an RBI double, helping Tuscola (2-0) even the score at 2.
In the fourth, a two-out error on Jalen Quinn’s potential inning-ending one-hopper to second nudged the tie-breaking run home. Quinn then stole second and third before trotting home on Will Little’s RBI single through the box.
“We had good pitching today,” Tripp said. “All three threw well. If we catch that one ground ball, we get out of that inning tied 2-2. We might not give up five runs.”
A bigger concern for Tripp is hitting. Facing three good arms wasn’t exactly the way to break in a new lineup. The Blackcats scratched out two first inning runs on the strength of two walks, three wild pitches and aggressive baserunning.
After that, Logan Tabeling, Ryan Bartley and Brayden Vanlanken threw up six goose eggs. Tabeling didn’t allow a ball out of the infield during his three innings, while Bartley (1-0) struck out six in 3 1/3 innings and Vanlanken got the final two outs for the save.
Glidewell’s leadoff single in the sixth broke up a potential combined no-hitter. Miller followed with a single and Luke Brown drew one of seven walks to fill the bases with one out. But Bartley whiffed the next two hitters to quell the threat.
“I told the kids that’s the kind of arms you will see in a Super-Sectional, especially the starter,” Tripp said. “The hitting will be a little weaker this year. That’s something we’ve got to work on.”
If nothing else, Goreville may not face too many teams better than the Warriors. They won 38 games last year and finished third in Class 2A. The teams share a few other things in common than third place showings in their respective classes.
They have played each other for a decade, usually when Tuscola makes its yearly early-season trip to Southern Illinois. To repay the Blackcats for their hospitality, Warriors coach Adam Carver has allowed them to take batting practice at his school on their trips to Peoria the last three years.
“They’ve been good hosts for us,” Carver said. “We’ve enjoyed playing Shawn and his club. We like coming down here every year and playing games in warmer weather.”