A hard-fought battle ended in a loss for the Litchfield Blues Saturday, as they fell 7-2 to Loretto in the Region 12C play-in tournament.

“We battled from the beginning of the game,” pitcher Joey Hyde said. “We just got to keep our heads up. There’s just so many mental errors that get to us. Just playing a complete ball game (is key), especially in playoffs. We didn’t really earn any runs ourselves hitting, they gave it to us.”

Hyde started on the mound for the Blues after leading the North Star League in innings pitched during the regular season.

“Joey Hyde is always just a model of consistency,” Blues manager John Anderson said. “We know what we’re going to get. There’s going to be base hits, and our defense is going to get tested. And for the most part, yeah, we held up well defensively.”

The Blues jumped out to an early lead to help provide Hyde with some run support. Litchfield scored off an RBI single from Brady Smith in the first inning, but Loretto responded with two runs in the first inning. Litchfield tied the game with a run in the second off an outfield error, but Loretto scored a run on a sacrifice fly in the fourth for a 3-2 lead.

Loretto scored on an RBI single in the sixth, and then opened up with three insurance runs in the eighth to put the Blues away.

The Blues struggled throughout the game with runners in scoring position. They left the bases loaded in the second inning, and left two runners on base in the fifth, sixth and ninth innings.

“If we get guys on second and third with less than two outs, we have to be productive there,” Anderson said. “We have to find a way to put a runner in. And if we’re not doing that we’re not going to be winning a lot of games.

“It’s just something that good teams are going to find ways to score there,” he said. “And we’re just not to that point, and offense is something we need to focus on.”

Smith had three hits for the Blues, while Hyde had a double and pitched eight innings while allowing just three earned runs. The Larks left the bases loaded in the first and third innings and two runners on base in the sixth.

“It sucks as a pitcher giving up a lot of hits, it’s stressful,” Hyde said. “But we were able to get out of a couple bases-loaded jams, which is always nice.”

The loss ended a season that saw Litchfield go 4-17 against NSL opponents. Despite the losing record, Hyde is encouraged by what the team did with the amount of youth on the roster.

“I’m 24 and I’m like the third oldest guy here, which seems crazy,” he said. “So I think for these young guys, it’s the experience. There’s high school kids, and our center fielder is going to be a junior in high school. So I think just those guys getting used to playing more competitive baseball … is our biggest thing.”

Anderson likes the versatility that many of the players on the roster present, which he added was an asset he hadn’t had in previous seasons. As another pitching threat alongside Hyde, Anderson hopes to establish a second starter and a dependable reliever going into next season. Part of that and the rest of the team’s growth will depend on its current crop of young players.

“These young guys, I don’t know if they realize it but they’re in a good place,” Anderson said. “They’ve got a lot of opportunity to play high-level baseball, where on another town team they may be sitting on a bench for a long time. The basic takeaway from this year, again, is we have a lot of young, excited players and when that develops into more of a veteran presence and less volatility on the field, you’re going to start to see the wins come a lot more often.”

Loretto Larks 7, Litchfield Blues 2 (Region 12C play-in tournament, July 27)

Litch ...... 110 000 000 — 2

Loretto ... 200 101 03x — 7

Litch stats

Batting - A. Loch 1-5, SB; M. Spreiter 1-4, R, BB; J. Jones 0-4, BB; B. Smith 3-5, RBI, SB; J. Hyde 1-4, BB; J. Kiehn 0-3, BB; D. Kotzer 0-1; G. Lecher 0-3, HBP; A. Kaping 1-4, R; E. Kaping 1-3, BB; Totals — 8-36, 2R, RBI, 5BB, 3K

2B — Hyde

Pitching - J. Hyde (L) 8IP-13H-7R-3ER-2BB-2K

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