MIO – Down by four runs at the end of the first inning of the Division 4 district championship game at AuGres, it was clear the Mio baseball team needed to dig deep and find the resolve to shake off the bad start and make a comeback.
Working in the Thunderbolts’ favor was the fact that it was early in the game, and they had plenty of time to erase the deficit and bring home the title.
That is exactly what they did.
Hale’s red-hot start fizzled when Thunderbolts’ head coach Fox changed pitchers, and the Eagles would fail to put another run across the rest of the game.
Mio scored two runs in the top of the second, and then didn’t score again until it notched a single run in the sixth to make it a one-run game.
With the score tied, 4-4 and the Thunderbolts batting in the top of the sixth, Jacob Bones got his bat around for a run-scoring single to give Mio a 5-4 lead.
Bones also earned the win on the hill, coming in to relieve starter Tyler Demory who went one and one-third innings, allowing four runs on three hits and strike out two. Bones gave up just one hit and struck out 13 over five and two-third innings.
Mio advanced to the regional final with a 10-0 victory over Whittemore-Prescott, before falling, 14-4 to Valley Lutheran.
“We had no seniors this year, so the leaders were pretty young,” Fox said. “Heck, I had kids this was their second year playing baseball.
“They played baseball their freshman year and didn’t get their sophomore year (because of COVID). It hit me one day just how raw we were when our leftfielder told one of my coaches that it was his second year playing baseball.
“But they were real coachable kids and that helped out a lot. They come from good families. It was a blessing, really.”
Mio was not only young, and sort of learning the ropes on the run, but Fox had been named the coach late in the game and didn’t get a chance to work with the players much before the season started.
The former coach resigned just one month before the season was scheduled to start.
But it all came together for a championship season.
“I knew them (the players) from Little League, and coaching them in previous sports, like basketball and football,” Fox said. “Which was a good thing.
“When I stepped in, they had respect for me. We worked well together. I give them a little freedom, if they play within themselves.
“Just being young, we made a few errors. When it came to the regional games, they outpitched and out-hit us. But it was great for our team moving forward.”
Bones, a junior pitcher and shortstop, was one of those leaders. He was the pacesetter on offense with a robust .414 batting average with two home runs, nine doubles, two triples and 24 runs batted in.
Demory (pitcher/shortstop) drove in 16 runs, scored 21 runs, and had one double and one triple on his .462 batting average. Lewis Kuffel, the starting catcher, hit .295 for the season with 17 RBIs, 17 runs scored and five doubles.
“Kuffle has been around baseball his whole life,” Fox said. “He called pitches all season. I would guide him when he came into the dugout on maybe inside-outside, high-low.
“A pitcher had maybe struggled to hit his curve ball or something. We would have little conferences between innings. I had confidence in him. He also has a really good arm.”
Austin Fox was second on the team with 13 RBIs, had three doubles and scored 18 runs while batting .302. Gage Long drove in 11 runs and scored 15 with four doubles and a triple on a .320 BA.
Bones was the Thunderbolts’ leading pitcher as well, going 8-1 with two saves and had a 3.15 earned run average with 108 strike outs and just 39 walks in 51 innings pitched.
Demory, also a wrestler, finished 6-3 with one save, 52 strike outs and 16 walks in 34 1/3 innings pitched and fashioned a 4.28 ERA. Kuffel even tossed 14 1/3 innings and was 2-0 with a 3.90 ERA.
“One of our pluses was our baserunning,” Fox said. “Being able to steal and take advantage of errant throws. Just being quick on our toes.
“We hit a lot of singles. A lot of contact. We were not so much power. Next year it will be a lot of small ball, and make the other team make plays. The kids seem to have fun with it. They’re always moving.”
With everyone coming back next spring, the Thunderbolts expect to challenge for another district title … and hopefully make a deeper run in the playoffs.
They’ll be veterans next year, too.