Mules edge Dexter to stay unbeaten
DEXTER -- Patience was not a virtue Monday for the Poplar Bluff and Dexter baseball teams.
The free-swinging Mules jumped ahead early and Dexter's patience didn't pay off in the long run.
Daniel Francisco provided the tie-breaking hit and scored in the fourth inning to lift the Mules past Dexter 5-3 in SEMO Conference Play.
"He's been hitting the ball pretty well," Mules coach Stan Bullington said of Francisco who came into the game hitting .227 with three RBIs.
"It always seems to be at somebody lately for him, so that's great to see him hit a line drive and come through big."
Lucas Tibbs earned his third win on the mound after five innings of work for the Mules (10-0, 4-0 SEMO). The senior struck out three, walked two and allowed two runs on five hits.
Austin Aldridge allowed three earned runs on eight hits and four walks in seven innings for the Bearcats (4-5, 1-3). The junior threw four fewer pitches than Tibbs by getting through three separate innings in 10 pitches or less.
"He did a great job today," Dexter coach Brian Becker said. "Last outing was a rough one against Notre Dame. Difference between that game and today was he was working the knees. He got the ball up against Notre Dame and they pounded it pretty good."
The Mules seemed to be in a hurry at the plate. Of Poplar Bluff's 32 trips to the dish, 15 were over after only two pitches.
"We discussed at length the approach we wanted to take, even between innings, and yet we still had guys that were jumping on first, second pitches -- which was not what we were trying to do," Bullington said. "The message didn't get through clearly right from the beginning."
Francisco came into the game leading the team in plate appearance in which he saw at least six pitches. With the game tied at 2 in the fourth, he slapped a 2-2 pitch into center field to score a pair of runs.
Francisco then scored from first base on Dalton Cooper's ground out to the left side. Third base was left uncovered and Francisco beat an errant throw there before running home for a 5-2 lead.
The Mules also scored a run on an error in the first inning to go up 2-0.
Tibbs led off with a double into the left-field gap and Alex Lewis provided a one-out RBI single. With two outs, Wesley Pyles hit a sharp grounder under the first baseman's glove that allowed the second run to score.
Aldridge retired eight of the next nine hitters on 20 pitches.
"For the most part he did a great job of pitching around things that we did in the field," Becker said of Aldridge. "Had a couple of mental errors and physical errors that ends up biting you. It did today."
Dexter answered with two runs in the second.
Wyatt Kiger drew a walk after fouling off three two-strike pitches. Tibbs struck out the next two hitters but No. 9 hitter Blake Horton followed with a single down the left-field line.
Dalton Manuel's single up the middle scored Kiger despite Pyles' strike from center field to the plate. Colton Averrett's hit to right then scored Horton who dove in head first to beat Kameron Misner's throw to the plate as Lewis blocked the plate.
The Bearcats, however, left two more runners in scoring position when Tibbs got a groundout to the second baseman.
"I was very pleased with the way we swung the bat today," Becker said. "We hit the ball hard a lot of times today and most of the times it was right at somebody."
With his team averaging 3.7 runs per game, Becker gave the green light at third knowing the Mules feature good outfield arms.
"You get a big hit there and tie it up, you never know," Becker said. "You get some momentum with us, hopefully it would stay with us."
Tibbs retired nine of the final 10 he faced including a 1-2-3 third in which the senior caught a fly ball on the mound, ran down another fly ball on the foul side of the third-base line and fielded a grounder.
Kameron Misner allowed a run in two innings of relief, striking out one, walking one and allowing two hits.
Jacob Murdock opened the seventh with a walk after fouling off three two-strike pitches. Horton attempted to reach base on a bunt but was thrown out by Misner. Manuel followed with an RBI single to cut Poplar Bluff's lead to 5-3 but with the heart of Dexter's order coming up, Misner got a flyout to right and Collin Jones threw out the runner retreating to first base.
While Dexter's patience at the plate knocked Tibbs out after 95 pitches through five innings, Aldridge was economical to go the distance.
The Mules saw four-or-more pitches in just five at-bats and each time they reached base -- four walks and Francisco's hit.
"Why not take a few pitches and see what happens because we don't know," Bullington said. "That's the approach we've been trying to preach all year long is to work the counts, be selective until you get two strikes on you and then you can be defensive.
"We've been doing that really well up until today."
Notes: Poplar Bluff won the junior varsity game 11-1. ... The Mules travel Thursday to Jackson in another SEMO Conference game before hosting Twin Rivers on Friday. ... Dexter hosts Jackson today.