Hickman showed it deserved the top seed for next week’s Class 4 District 10 baseball tournament.
Hickman pitcher Chad Hatcher shut down the Helias Crusaders for the second time this year, and the Kewpies backed up their No. 1 seed with a 4-2 win Tuesday at Hickman Field.
Heading into the game, Helias had lost twice and had the best overall record in the district.
Hatcher gave up four hits in seven innings but gave the credit to the defense.
“We played solid defense through the whole game,” Hatcher said. “They were putting the ball in play, and I think we stepped it up really great on defense.”
Justin Jackson made a number of good plays at third base, and Blake Tekotte made three running catches in center field to keep Helias’ scoring to a minimum.
“I think the key to our last six or seven wins has been our defense,” Hickman coach Kent Fewell said. “The outfield’s always played well but our defense on groundballs has improved so much.”
Tekotte also gave Hickman (12-6, 4-1 District 10) its biggest offensive push of the game with a tie-breaking three-run home run in the fourth inning. Tekotte’s seventh home run flew over the scoreboard in left-center field and gave the Kewpies a 4-1 lead.
“I was swinging at bad pitches all day and I finally got refocused and (Helias pitcher Jason Lansford) made a pretty good pitch over the outside of the plate,” Tekotte said.
The home run provided all the help Hatcher would need.
Helias (14-3, 3-2) scored one run in the fifth when Jackson’s throw from third pulled Eric Schultz off the bag in a close play, allowing Kenny Rackers to reach. Rackers stole second and scored on Andrew Gilstrap’s single to right field.
Helias took the first lead in the third but squandered an opportunity to have a bigger inning.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, Hatcher forced leadoff man Josh Wilson to ground into a double play. Blake Schrimpf scored on the play to give Helias a 1-0 lead. Gilstrap then flied out to left to end the inning.
“When I’m able to get off-speed … over for a strike early in the count and I can sneak in a fastball late, that really helps,” Hatcher said.
Hickman answered in the bottom of the third on Shultz’s bouncing single through the hole between shortstop and third.
Hatcher retired the side in order in the seventh. Fewell said it was an important win this close to the district tournament, which begins Monday at Hickman Field.
Hickman next plays Thursday against Rock Bridge at Simmons Field.
“I don’t know if we need to be playing all these district teams right before we go into districts,” Fewell said.
Helias coach Chris Wyrwich said it didn’t matter to him where his team was seeded in the tournament.
The seed voting had Helias and Hickman tied for first, but Hickman’s earlier win against the Crusaders gave the Kewpies the top seed.
Hatcher beat Helias on April 6 in Jefferson City when Hickman won 8-0.
Helias’ other loss came against Huntsville in the Jefferson City Tournament.
“It’s a concern for me because we didn’t make very good adjustments from the first time we saw (Hatcher),” Wyrwich said. “Four hits isn’t enough no matter who you’re facing.”
Jackson’s defense has landed him a permanent spot at third base. He moved from catcher to third base to replace regular infielders when they pitched.
Hatcher, who began the year at third when not pitching, will move to second base and split time with Jake Unger and Andrew Mueller. Nick Steponovich will take over as catcher.
The game was also an emotional one for Hickman, for the team attended the funeral of Gary Jones, center fielder Tyler Jones’ father, earlier.
“It was a tough day to play,” Fewell said. “Today was a lot different than Saturday (when) we were on a mission to play well. Today we started out with our heads down a little bit but we talked.”
Jones attended the game but did not play.