CONNEAUT — Lakeside’s Drew Kiphart says he never has a problem taking one for the team.
Kiphart didn’t get a hit in the sixth inning, but may have had the biggest at-bat of the frame with a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt that set the table for the rally and the Dragons 5-3 win over Conneaut in a county baseball match-up at Skippon Park on Thursday.
The bats came to life in the sixth, erupting for four runs on four hits to turn a 3-1 deficit into a two-run advantage.
David Westover relieved Lakeside’s starting pitcher Ashton Wheelock in the bottom of the inning and made the runs stand.
Trailing 2-1 and being handcuffed by Conneaut starter Jake Wiley, Lakeside (5-9) got back-to-back singles from Chris Morehouse and Alex Tulino to lead off the inning. Kiphart put one down the third base line that died perfectly in the grass.
The only play Conneaut had a chance to make was at third, but Morehouse arrived safely.
“We work on our bunts every practice,” Kiphart said “I have no problem with bunting if that’s what I need to do to help the team get a win.”
The well executed safety went as a fielder’s choice, but it loaded the bases and set the table for the Dragon hitters.
Kyle Van Allen dinged a blooper to left center that dropped in to score Morehouse. Danny Garcia followed with a sacrifice fly to center that brought Tulino home with the tying run.
Nick Hodges followed with a hot shot through the wickets of the Conneaut third baseman, scoring Kiphart and making it 4-3. Johnny Anservitz then cashed in on the extra out by driving a pitch to right center for a double to score Hodges and knock Wiley out of the game.
Lakeside coach Jared Sziber agreed the bunt by Kiphart really ignited his offense.
“That was absolutely huge,” Sziber said. “We talk about team baseball and how it’s very rare to come up and not be in a situational type of hitting. He did an amazing job of getting it down and sometimes getting bunts down is not the most fun thing to do, but as far as team baseball goes and winning, that’s the most fun thing we can do.”
Conneaut, (7-10) scored first as Nick Morris and Wiley hit their way on. Then, with two outs, No. 9 hitter Dillon Fedor came up with a clutch single down the right field line to score both runners.
Fedor had another hit in the fifth inning and would come around to score on an RBI single by Alex Kennedy.
The Spartans were a little short handed in the game, as two players were tardy for school on Thursday. Under Conneaut school attendance policy, if a student-athlete is late for school, they may not participate in any events that day.
Coach Bill Lipps was disappointed with his players, but supported the school’s policy.
“We put some of our players in a bind today,” the coach said. “But the lesson learned here is you have to be a student athlete. You’re not an athletic student. The student part comes first.”
As tough as the sixth inning was, though, Lipps didn’t feel that was where his team let the game get away.
“I think we lost the game in the batter’s box,” he said. “We probably didn’t lose it in that (sixth) inning as much as we lost in by not capitalizing before that and maybe tacking on a few more.”
Both teams sent freshmen to the mound to start the game and both were impressive.
Wheelock gave up two earned runs on seven hits over five innings. He struck out two batters.
“He’s a real talented kid,” Sziber said. “He has a big future.”
Wiley worked five plus innings, giving up just two earned runs while scattering seven hits and striking out four.
“Jake’s had better stuff than he had today,” Lipps said. “But I thought he showed a lot of guts out there today, he had a lot of poise.”
The Spartans face Seneca today at Eastwood Field in Niles, home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Lakeside is off for the weekend, before going to Howland for an All-American Conference contest on Monday.