LENOX — Sophomore Caleb Lange performed like a senior veteran when Lenox needed it most here Thursday night.
The big lefthander battled through hot, humid conditions to throw 107 pitches and rack up 10 strikeouts in the Tigers’ 11-6 Class 1A District 13 semifinal victory over Murray.
At the plate, Lange greeted relief pitcher Austin Halls with a two-run single to give his team an 8-2 lead in the third inning. To top it off, he swung on a 1-2 pitch from Halls in the seventh inning and deposited it over the fence in right-center, among the warm-up area for cowboys and their horses for the Lenox Rodeo going on next to Tiger Field.
Lange appeared to be wilting a bit in Murray’s two-run fifth, issuing a walk and allowing two hits as the score closed to 9-5. But by the sixth inning, Lange was back on track, retiring the Mustangs in order, including a pair of strikeouts.
As Halls and leadoff batter Cody Scroggie, who increased his season stolen base total to 55 Thursday night, each escaped rundowns in the seventh inning, Murray managed one more run. But the rally ended as Justin Jones hit a bouncer that deflected off Lange’s glove to shortstop Mason Peterson near second base.
When Peterson tagged the base with his glove to force out runner Pat Kilmer, it closed out the chance to play in a district championship game just two years after the Tigers managed only four wins.
On the rise
“Yeah, when I was in eighth grade we didn’t have any fans coming out and we couldn’t win,” Lange said. “We got coaches who worked us harder, and we’ve only lost one or two seniors a year. We still have a lot of young talent around.”
Peterson, the only senior in the starting lineup, was a spark Thursday by scoring four runs while going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks. He also had several key plays at shortstop.
In the fourth, when Murray had scored on a bases-loaded walk drawn by Braydon Held, Peterson stopped a hard bouncer from Sam Rockhold from reaching the outfield. After he threw just a moment late to first, Todd Stoaks fired across the diamond to Jared Hensley to get Halls out at third. Lange then worked out of the bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and a popout near the mound.
“I told the guys, we’re starting to get to him,” said Murray coach Travis Held. “Then he came right back in the sixth and we didn’t get the production we needed out of the 7-8-9 spots. He’s a great athlete and a good competitor.”
“He’s a very competitive kid,” concurred Lenox co-coach Kurt Stoaks. “Even in an argument he’s going to have the last word! I told him after the fifth, it looked like he was letting up and aiming the ball. I wanted him to get out and throw like he did to start with, leave it all on the field.”
“He was in a groove, I hardly called any curveballs,” catcher Dustin Gordon said after the one-two-three Murray sixth inning.
“I just had to tell myself to relax and throw strikes,” Lange said.
Halls and Scroggie, wrapping up historic athletic careers at Murray High School, shared pitching duties for the Mustangs, who end at 17-9. Halls was effective over the final 4 2/3 innings, notching six strikeouts with one walk and six hits allowed.
Scroggie yielded eight runs on five hits with seven walks and three strikeouts in battling some control issues over the first 2 2/3 innings. He was 2-for-3 at the plate with three runs scored at the top of the batting order, and Halls went 3-for-4 with a pair of runs.
“We got in a hole there in the beginning,” Held said. “Cody was just missing outside a little bit. It’s a good Lenox team and they’re going to hit, so you don’t want to walk people. Austin came in and kind of calmed it down. Those two really pushed things on the base paths and made things happen for us. They’re fun to watch.”
Second baseman Corey McCracken and right fielder Raymond Barlage join Halls and Scroggie as seniors finishing their Mustang careers.
Meanwhile, Lenox (18-10) travels to St. Marys Saturday for a district championship game against eighth-ranked Martensdale-St. Marys, which routed Orient-Macksburg 19-0 Thursday.
“We lost 9-2 to them, but we hit the ball and had only one strikeout,” Lange said. “We kind of hit right at them, and we’ve improved a lot since then.”
Co-coach Brian Wood said a key was not giving up more than two runs in any inning the first time against the explosive Blue Devils. Stoaks said continued good hitting and solid defense are the requirements for his team, which could use a combination of Peterson, Spencer Brown and Lange on the mound.
“They have a lot of tough hitters,” Stoaks said. “We know our outfield will have to be playing some defense. We have to keep scoring.”
Saturday’s winner plays in the substate final Tuesday at Creston against either Nishnabotna or Underwood. Lenox owns a previous victory over Nishnabotna, and has not played Underwood.
Lenox 11, Murray 6
R H E
Lenox 215 010 2 — 11 11 3
Murray 200 120 1 — 6 9 2
L: Caleb Lange 10K 4BB and Dustin Gordon. M: Cody Scroggie 3K 7BB, Austin Halls 6K 1BB and Sam Rockhold. W — Lange. L— Scroggie. HR — L: Lange. RBI — L: Lange 3, Todd Stoaks 2, Gordon 2, Mason Peterson 1, Spencer Brown 1, Dustyn Rauch 1; M: Halls 1, Rockhold 1, Pat Kilmer 1, Justin Jones 1, Braydon Held 1. Multiple hitters — L: Stoaks 3, Peterson 2, Lange 2; M: Halls 3, Scroggie 2, Rockhold 2.