MINERAL RIDGE - Two words quickly described how Mineral Ridge baseball coach Andrew Barker felt after dropping a 10-5 game against South Range.
"It's frustrating," said Barker, whose Rams committed six errors and allowed five unearned runs.
The disappointing part for Barker and Mineral Ridge was the fact that the Rams played well in just about every other phase of the game and were in a tight matchup with the leaders of the Inter Tri-County League, Upper Tier for most of the contest. But fielding miscues kept costing Mineral Ridge (6-7, 3-6), and South Range (10-2, 7-0) made sure it took advantage.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
South Range’s Ross Stoffer (10) slides safely into second base as Mineral Ridge shortstop Brandon Bukofchan (13) catches the throw to second base but can’t keep his foot on the bag during fifth-inning action.
The blunders in the field are all that's holding back the Rams, and while it's eating at Barker, the second-year coach said he understands that defense is going to be a work-in-progress for a team that starts six underclassmen - including three freshmen - on a daily basis.
"It's frustrating, but I can take it," he said. "It's just we had too many breakdowns mentally. Physical errors happen, but we've got to be able to rebound from them. When you play a good team like South Range, you have to be on top of your game."
The Rams weren't far off from that for most of the game. They trailed 5-3 going into the seventh inning. Starting pitcher Greg Strohmeyer just pitched six solid innings, giving up five runs - one earned - while striking out eight. Plus, they were hitting the ball consistently to keep pressure on the Raiders. That was somewhat impressive to Barker because the miscues could have caused the Rams to lose their focus at the plate.
A senior leader like catcher Dan Ferguson does all he can to make sure that doesn't happen.
"You just have to keep your composure straight and not give in," said Ferguson, who leads the Rams in batting average, home runs, doubles and runs. "We just have to rebound from this game. You have to take the negatives from this, work on them, then leave them behind and take the positives and build on them going into the playoffs."
Unfortunately for Mineral Ridge, the wheels came off in the seventh, when after two quick outs, three relievers allowed two hits, three walks, two hit batsmen and five runners to cross the plate to give South Range a 10-3 lead.
Despite the loss, and the fact that Mineral Ridge has a losing record, the Rams could be a tough out in the Division IV tournament - especially if they shore up their defense. Strohmeyer, a junior, can throw in the low 80s, and he showed on Tuesday he has secondary pitches to complement his fastball.
"My splitter was really working today," Strohmeyer said. "My slider was good too."
Also helping their cause is hitting. Barker called Ferguson "one of the best hitters in the state." His numbers back it up as he's batting .414 with three home runs (that's three more than anyone else on the team) and four doubles. He's also a great defensive catcher and leads the team in walks with 15 (nearly twice as many as the next closest guy).
"We're really cautious in our approach pitching to him," South Range coach Jim Hanek said. "He throws well too. We didn't steal a bag on him. We didn't try running on him."
Hanek and the Raiders found other areas to exploit, something Mineral Ridge has to clear up before the playoffs begin in May.
"If we can put together a whole game, we're going to be a pain in the butt for somebody in the tournament," Barker said.