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Staley, Fritts dazzle in doubleheader against Hastings

The Badlands Big Sticks made back-to-back highlight reel plays in the fifth inning of their 9-3 win over Hastings (Neb.) on Sunday. First, third baseman Drew Staley layed out to keep a hit from Sodbuster Jake Oblas from leaving the infield. Inste...

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Badlands Big Stick outfielder Aaron Fritts leaps as a ball nears him against Hastings on Sunday, June 17 at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)

The Badlands Big Sticks made back-to-back highlight reel plays in the fifth inning of their 9-3 win over Hastings (Neb.) on Sunday.

First, third baseman Drew Staley layed out to keep a hit from Sodbuster Jake Oblas from leaving the infield. Instead of getting the lead runner out at third, he tossed to second baseman Karson Backer for the first out, who then threw to first to get Oblas out.

Immediately after, Ryan Koski sent the ball flying, but Badlands right fielder Aaron Fritts leaped to reach over the wall, robbing Koski of a home run and ending the inning.

"First off, the double play, that was the best play of the year and then Fritts does that," Big Sticks head coach Hayden Pewitt said. "I think that's the best play I've ever seen."

Earlier in the evening, Fritts took flight only to watch the ball soar far over his head and over the fence. It made his fifth inning snag all the sweeter.

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"I've had like four opportunities to rob a home run this year and that's the first time I've been close to catching one," Fritts said. "I went back. I didn't know it was going to be a robbing home run situation at first, but when I saw it I just kind of leaped at the last second and put my glove up there. I was just lucky enough it went in."

When Fritts isn't protecting the fence, he's sending balls over it. Of the nine Badlands hits in game one of the Sunday doubleheader, Fritts had two, including a lead off home run in the seventh. Despite his attempt at a comeback rally, the Big Sticks went on to lose 8-6 on Sunday, June 17 at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark.

In the third inning of game one, he worked a 14-pitch at-bat against starting pitcher Matt Hess, eventually drawing a walk.

"I got behind in the count so I was just trying to fight, trying to protect," Fritts said. "I've never had an at-bat like that. I just kept fouling pitches off and I was fortunate to draw a walk."

Fritts, who just committed to California State University, Bakersfield, walked in his first at-bat of game two, scoring the first run for the Big Sticks (14-7) when Auggie Francis hit a home run. Before the Sodbusters (10-12) retired the side, Staley tied the game at three, driving in Thurber with a base hit.

After the Sodbusters took a 4-3 lead in the third, Staley put the Big Sticks on top again, this time with a two-run double. He advanced to third on the throw to home, and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Karson Backer.

Following a rough start five days ago, Big Sticks starting pitcher Matt Graser went five innings in game two, relying heavily on his knuckleball.

"He really found out that if he throws the fastball it gets hit," Pewitt said. "So he stopped throwing fastballs. I think he had one hit on his knuckleball, so when he's throwing the knuckleball, he's tough. I mean, it's a frickin knuckleball."

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In game one, Hastings took the series win, following its 8-7 win on Friday. The Sunday victory started by accumulating a five-run lead over the first four innings.

"Against these guys we've just gotten more timely hitting," Hastings head coach Scott Stover said. "And ... they're running out of good arms as anyone else. I think we just had timely hitting and put ourselves in situations to have better at-bats."

After three scoreless innings, Big Sticks designated hitter Gabe Knowles broke through with a single, starting a streak of four straight hits which scored two runs. However, base running errors halted the momentum.

After hitting a single to put runners at second and first, Staley got caught between first and second. Thanks to an accurate and timely throw from Sodbusters catcher Austin Elder, first baseman Riley Donahue tagged Staley out.

Big Sticks second baseman Christian Padilla followed with a walk. When starting thrower Matt Hess tried to pick him off, Padilla made it back to the bag. Two pitches later, Elder nailed another throw to Donahue, who passed to short stop Josh Urps to get Padilla out, ending the inning.

In the fifth, Francis singled to score shortstop Chasen Roulhac and Fritts, but ran to second on the throw to home, only be tagged out.

While just the first out of the inning, the mistake proved pivotal when Thurber stepped up and sent the ball over the fence. If Francis had been on base, the home run would have tied the game at six. Instead, the Big Sticks went into the final innings down 6-5 before giving up the final two runs in the seventh.

"We just got to flush that, I don't think it's anything physical, just mental," Pewitt said. "We'll figure it out."

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Hastings Sodbusters 8, Badlands Big Sticks 6

HSB 021 300 2 - 8 14 0

BBS 000 230 1 - 6 9 2

Matt Hess (4), Cedric Moreno (1), Jonas Lovin (2) and Austin Elder. Gabe Lizarraga (3.1), Cort Dietrich (3.2) and Brayden Olson.

W-Hess. L-Lizarraga. S- Lovin. HR- BBS, Aaron Fritts, Jake Thurber.

Highlights: HSB, Elder 3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI; K Force 2-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2B; Hess 4 IP, 4 H, 2 R (2 ER), 4 BB, 4 K. BBS, Fritts, 2-3, HR, 2 R, 1 RBI; Thurber 1-4, HR, 1 R, 1 RBI; Gabe Knowles 2-4, 1 R; Auggie Francis 1-3, 2 RBI; Ben Thoma 1-3, 1 R; Brayden Olson 1-2, 2 RBI; Drew Staley 1-3; Lizarraga 3.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R (4 ER), 1 BB; Dietrich 3.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R (2 ER), 2 BB, 1 K.

Badlands Big Sticks 9, Hastings Sodbusters 3

HSB 201 000 0 - 3 9 1

BBS 303 201 X - 9 8 1

Donovan Meadows (1), Breyden Eckhout (2), Donahue (2), Tyler Daugherty (1) and Brooks Asher. Matt Graser (5), Nick Jennings (1), Kaleb Binstock (1) and Ben Thoma.

W-Graser. L-Eckhout. S-Binstock. HR-BBS, Francis. HSB, Elder.

Highlights: Elder 2-3, HR, 1 R, 1 RBI; Jake Oblas 2-3, 1 R; Eckhout 2 IP, 2 H, 3 R (3 ER), 2 BB, 2 K. Auggie Francis 1-2, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI; Gabe Knowles 2-2, 2B; 2 R, 1 RBI; Chasen Roulhac 1-2, 1 R; Jake Thurber 1-2, 2B, 1 R, 1 RBI; Drew Staley 1-4, 2B, 1 R, 4 RBI; Christian Padilla 1-3, 2B; Graser 5 IP, 8 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 3 K; Jennings 1 IP, 1 H, 1 K; Binstock 1 IP, 2 BB,1 K.

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