By John Bohnenkamp
Ryan Grace didn’t play baseball this spring. So, since arriving to play for the Burlington Bees in the Prospect League, it’s taken him some time to get going.
Grace is hitting now, and so are his teammates.
Grace had four hits, part of a 17-hit night for the Bees in their 15-5 win over the O’Fallon Hoots on Friday night at Community Field.
Grace, a first baseman, redshirted this season at Quinnipiac. He started the season with just three hits in his first 18 at-bats.
He’s hitting .356 now and is on a five-game hitting streak in which he’s hit .500.
“I’m just trying to hit it hard every time I’m at bat,” Grace said. “Wherever it goes, if it’s hit hard, it’s a good at-bat in my eyes.”
Grace went 4-for-5 in this game, scoring two runs and driving in a run.
“I don’t know how much live pitching he had seen when he got here, but it didn’t look like a lot,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said. “The more we’ve gotten him in there, the more comfortable he’s feeling, the more confident he is. Having him being comfortable and confident in what he’s doing, especially when he has a good game, it’s good to see for him.”
Grace was looking to play this summer for two reasons, and Burlington proved to be a good spot.
“I want to play,” said Grace, who is from Concord, Mass. “I haven’t played all spring. I wanted to travel, but I didn’t want to stop playing baseball. So I thought this was the best opportunity — see the Midwest, and play ball.
“It’s great. I love it here.”
“I like just the way he brings the intensity when he’s playing,” Oreskovich said. “He jokes around in the clubhouse all of the time. But when he plays baseball, he’s serious about everything. He doesn’t like to mess up.”
The Bees (8-14) have won three of their last four games, including back-to-back wins for only the second time this season.
Grace’s run-scoring single in the third started a seven-run inning for the Bees. They led 10-1 after four innings, then finished the game on the 10-run rule with a five-run seventh.
Spencer Nivens had two hits and drove in four runs for the Bees. Oscar Ponce drove in three runs.
The Bees got a strong start from pitcher Ian Landreneau (1-3), who got some help to get out of trouble in the first inning.
Sam Maddox led off the game with a four-pitch walk, stole second, and advanced to third when no one covered second base on the throw. Jake McCutcheon followed with a bouncing single to Grace, who was able to hold Maddox at third. McCutcheon then stole second, with Maddox trying to score on the throw down to second. But Dawson Estep’s throw back to the plate got Maddox, whose slide didn’t reach home plate.
Landreneau got Colin Bergmann on a popout and then struck out Ryan Malzahn to end the inning.
“(Landreneau) did a good job of filling it up after the first batter of the game,” Oreskovich said. “Him getting out of trouble in the first inning, which he probably shouldn’t have been in … he did a good job just settling in and overcoming that, making pitches and getting guys out.”
O’Fallon starter Matt James lasted just 2 ⅔ innings. The Hoots were short on pitchers, so first baseman Cole Robinson finished the game. Robinson’s slow, looping pitches kept the Bees from mounting any sort of offense until the seventh.
“That’s harder to hit than real pitching,” Oreskovich said. “If you don’t know baseball, or play baseball, you wouldn’t understand it. It’s hard when a guy is throwing that slow and it has a steep angle like that. It’s very hard to adjust and get your timing, get your barrel on it.”
The Bees finally got to a tiring Robinson in the seventh, scoring five runs on six hits. Ben Tallman’s line-drive single to left field scored Nick Tampa with the game-ending run.
UP NEXT: The Bees play host to the Cape Catfish (8-14) in Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game.
NOTES: Tallman had his first two hits of the season. Tallman, a catcher from Iowa, hadn’t had a hit in his first 25 at-bats, but went 2-for-4 in the game. … Bees designated hitter Marcos Sanchez, who joined the team this week, is 4-for-8 in his first three games. … Nivens extended his hitting streak to four games.
Photo: Bees catcher Ben Tallman tags out O’Fallon’s Sam Maddox in the first inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)