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June 2, 2014

Three Rivers ace blanks Ada Braves

Ada —    Veteran Three Rivers head coach Rusty Fulps forgot to fill in ace pitcher McCain Foster’s name on the lineup sheet he turned into the pressbox before Game 1 of Saturday’s American Legion baseball doubleheader with the host Ada Braves.

   After the performance he put on during his seven strong innings, Braves players won’t forget him any time soon.

   Foster, a pitcher from Sequoyah-Tahlequah High School, struck out 15 and scattered four hits to help Three Rivers shut out the Braves 5-0 in the season opener for both teams.

   Saturday’s second game was delayed by rain, with the score tied at 4-4 after four complete innings. That contest resumed at noon Sunday, followed by another doubleheader between the local Post 72 squad and the the Muskogee-based Bandits back at East Central University’s Tiger Field.

   “That’s their No. 1. Just about everybody we play is going to have somebody that throws 85 or harder,” said Ada Braves skipper Travis Graham. “Everybody has a guy that can beat you.That’s why I like playing these series. It allows you to see everybody and gives your bullpen a chance to get in a game.”

   Foster whiffed five of the first seven Braves hitters he faced and always seemed to record a big strikeout when he needed one.

   The American Legion Post 72 squad had three big chances to scratch for a run against the Three Rivers flamethrower but left runners at third all three times.

   In the bottom of the second, Latta product Tristan Monroe was hit by a pitch, stole second and went to third on an error. Foster stranded him with a strikeout and a fly ball.

   In the bottom of the fourth, Scott Johnson of Ada High poked a single into right field and advanced to second on a bunt single by Roff’s Zach Lewis. Johnson stole third, giving the Braves runners at the corners. However, Lewis was caught stealing after a strikeout for a unique double play, and Foster fanned another hitter to leave Johnson at third.

   Walker Whitworth of Ada singled with two outs in the fifth, stole second and went to third on an error. But Foster’s 10th strikeout of the game ended that frame.

   “Some of these guys are so used to being the guy that has to score the runs for their team. Now they can step back and have a role,” Graham explained. “Their job doesn’t have to be to get the double or home run. Their job is to get a ground ball to second base to score a run, especially in these nine-inning games. That takes a little bit of getting used to.”

   Roff hurler Mike Anderson was solid in defeat. He allowed just two earned runs in 5.2 innings of work. He struck out four and allowed just four hits. Post 72 relievers Dalton Wolf of Ada and Gage Allen of Holdenville combined to pitch three scoreless innings.

   “I thought our bullpen came in and did a good job. They didn’t allow a run. Any time you get that out of your bullpen, you have to be pleased,” Graham said. “I thought Anderson did a good enough job to win the game; we just didn’t hit the ball. You have to at least score one to win, and we didn’t do that.”

   Three Rivers got on the scoreboard first with a two-out rally in the top of the fourth innings. Anderson hit Caleb Knight before Tim Smithson singled. Wyatt Grooms then hit a blooper that fell between a triangle of Braves defenders in shallow left field for an RBI hit. Dillon Guffy followed with a run-scoring single of his own before Anderson struck out Brennan Davis to end that Three Rivers’ uprising.

   Anderson started the top of the sixth off with back-to-back walks to Drew Wilson and Knight. A sacrifice bunt advanced the runners before Anderson recorded the second out via a ground ball to shortstop. But Guffy reached base on a critical Braves error, allowing both runners to score. Guffy later scored on a pair of wild pitches to boost the Bandits’ lead to 5-0.

   The Braves managed five hits in the contest, with Johnson leading the way with a 3-for-4 effort. The Bandits had six singles by six different players.

   All in all, Graham said his squad showed great effort for the first time out.

   “I thought we made some great defensive plays, and that’s going to be our bread and butter — throwing strikes and playing defense. Our offense will come around. The more reps they get, the better they’re going to be,” he said. “For the first game, I thought defensively we played well and we pitched it well.”

   The Post 72 hasn’t been able to hold a single outdoor practice together due to the rain showers that have soaked the area over the past week.

   “I’ve yet to hit these guys a ground ball outside of the tryout. Every practice we’ve had, we’ve had some rain,” Graham said. “Even the lineup is a work in progress. I’ve got to get to know the kids, and they have to get to know me. As we go on, I’ll be able to fine tune the lineup and figure out who goes where.”

   Graham said he’s looking forward to analyzing the Braves' four-game series with Three Rivers before heading to the Hutchinson (Kansas) Showcase Tournament June 5-8.

   “The biggest deal is getting everybody their innings in. Hopefully by the time we go to Kansas, I’ll have a better idea of what we’re doing so we’ll have a chance to go win that tournament,” he said.

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