BEES 6, HOOTS 5: Simple Batting Advice Helps Elmore

By John Bohnenkamp

A simple tweak of his swing has made the difference for Burlington Bees catcher Nolan Elmore.

Elmore had three hits and drove in three runs, including the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, as the Bees rallied past the O’Fallon Hoots 6-5 in Monday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

The Bees (16-25 overall, 5-5 second half) remained in a tie with the Normal CornBelters for the second-half lead in the Great River Division.

Elmore, who joined the Bees at the beginning of the month, was 1-for-9 at the plate in his first three games. But a piece of advice from Bees manager Owen Oreskovich when the team started its road trip last week has changed Elmore’s approach at the plate.

“When I got here, on every single fastball, I was completely late,” Elmore said. “I was swinging with it. He said, ‘Hit it out front.’ Something so simple like that made sense.”

“One key little word, and it worked,” Oreskovich said.

Elmore went 1-for-4 with a home run in last Wednesday’s game at Lafayette. He went 0-for-3 in Friday’s loss at Terre Haute, but he was making contact.

Elmore hit a solo home run in the third inning of this game, then drove in a run with a single in the sixth inning.

He came up with two outs in the eighth, with the score tied at 5 and Jaden Hackbarth on second base. Elmore swung at a high 3-2 pitch and fouled it back, then looked down to Oreskovich and gestured. The gesture from Oreskovich back gave Elmore the answer he was seeking.

“I wanted to know if it was in the (strike) zone,” Elmore said. “I was confident I was on it.”

“He asked me, ‘Was that up?’” Oreskovich said, laughing. “I said, ‘Way up.’”

Elmore then singled off Bryce Grossius (0-1) on the next pitch. Hackbarth slid across the plate ahead of the throw from center field, and the Bees had the lead.

Kyle Maurer then struck out two of the four hitters he faced in the ninth to pick up his fourth save of the season.

Nick Tampa (2-1) was the winning pitcher. The Bees got 3 ⅔ shutout innings from Tampa, Maurer and Jeron Conner.

Elmore, who plays at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, was working at a landscaping job in late June when he got a call from his coach, Jerod Edmundson, telling him the Bees were looking for a catcher.

“(Bees coach) Chris Monroe played for my coach (at Framingham State),” said Elmore, who hit .236 this season with eight home runs. “This team needed catchers. I got the call, I was at work, and my coach said there was an opportunity. So I took it.”

Elmore is hitting .250 with the Bees in six games. His hitting problem since he joined the team has been solved.

“He said it today,” Oreskovich said. ‘‘One little thing and it clicked like that.’ He’s an awesome kid. Really works hard behind the plate. It’s great to see.”

ON DECK: The Bees play host to the Clinton LumberKings in Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. game.

Photo: Bees catcher Nolan Elmore watches his third-inning home run. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

BEES 15, HOOTS 5: Grace Leads Offensive Surge

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)

HOOTS 9, BEES 1: Timely Hits Are Elusive In Loss

By John Bohnenkamp

The bases saw a lot of action on Thursday night.

Home plate didn’t, and that’s been a problem for the Burlington Bees in their last two games.

The 9-1 loss to the O’Fallon Hoots in a Prospect League game at Community Field was the second consecutive defeat in which the Bees scored just one run.

It’s not a matter of getting runners on base — Burlington (5-11) left 11 baserunners in this game — it’s a matter of getting them home.

“We just can’t seem to find a timely hit at all right now,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said. “Scored one run in, it might be the last three games, the last two for sure, and had plenty of runners on base in all of those games. Just waiting for somebody to step up and get a hit when we need it.”

It’s also hurting that the Bees aren’t putting the ball in play. They had 16 strikeouts in this game, 16 in Wednesday’s 9-1 loss at Illinois Valley. The Bees have 151 strikeouts this season, second-most in the league behind O’Fallon.

“We’ve got to cut down on the strikeouts,” Oreskovich said. “(Sixteen) last night, maybe 15 tonight. That’s just not going to win ball games when you’re striking out that many times. Put the ball in play, make them make a play, it could change it.

“I think it would go back on the approach in some ways. We’re fouling off balls too early in counts, not putting them in play, and now you’re in two-strike counts. You’ve got to capitalize on not fouling them off, putting them in play. And, especially with two strikes, just battle more than we have. Like I said, you put the ball in play, you don’t know what could happen. You might find a hole, you could get a little Texas Leaguer. I mean, anything can happen.”

Typical of the night for the Bees was a sequence of plays in the seventh. Sam Monroe and Spencer Nivens walked to open the inning. Kevin Santago then hit a broken-bat line drive off O’Fallon pitcher Geo Canfield, but the ball went to second baseman Will Doherty, who then turned a double play. Weston Fulk then struck out to end the inning.

O’Fallon (9-8) extended its winning streak to four games by taking control of the game early. The Hoots scored five runs in the first four innings off Bees starter Cauy Massner (0-1), who was sharp in the first innings, getting his first 11 pitches over for strikes.

Massner walked four in five innings, allowing five runs on seven hits.

O’Fallon added two runs in the sixth inning, then single runs in the eighth and ninth.

Burlington’s only run came in the second inning, when Dawson Estep doubled to right-center field to score Brandon Bickford.

ON DECK: The Bees play host to the Quincy Gems in a 6:30 p.m. game on Friday.

NOTES: Infielder Charlie Terrill has been placed on the injured list because of bone spurs. Terrill was hitting .400 in eight games. “That kid is one of the toughest kids I’ve ever been around,” Oreskovich said. “He was doing everything exactly the way we wanted it done.” … Santiago went 2-for-5 to extend his hitting streak to four games. Santiago, who is hitting .353 this season, is batting .389 in this streak. … Massner was the recipient of a crucial bounce in the second inning. O’Fallon had the bases loaded when a Massner pitch sailed over catcher Brady Logan. The ball hit off the backstop and caromed hard back to Logan, who waited at home plate to tag Ryan Malzahn, who was trying to score on the play.

Photo: Burlington Bees first baseman Ryan Grace tags O’Fallon’s Will Doherty on a pickoff play in the fifth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)

HOOTS 3, BEES 0: Bases Are Busy, But The Line Doesn’t Move

By John Bohnenkamp

Getting runners on base wasn’t a problem for the Burlington Bees.

Getting them to advance was a different thing.

The Bees had baserunners in seven innings, but lost 3-0 to the O’Fallon Hoots in Saturday’s Prospect League game at Community Field.

Burlington (10-10) stayed in a first-place tie with the Normal CornBelters in the Great River Division.

The Bees had six hits and 12 baserunners, but only one baserunner got to third base against O’Fallon pitchers Tyler Denu and Anthony Klein.

“We struggled to get a guy to second, to be honest,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “We just couldn’t string anything together.”

Denu (1-0) threw 80 pitches in seven innings, allowing six hits while striking out three. Anthony Klein hit three batters in the last two innings, but the Bees couldn’t come up with any hits.

“(Denu) threw a great game,” McClure said. “He minimized his pitch count, threw really well. He obviously kept our guys off-balance all night.”

All of the Bees’ hits were singles. Austin Simpson had two hits.

The Hoots got two runs in the first off Bees starter Jalen Evans (1-1) on singles by Elias Stevens and JT Mabry. Jamie Young scored on a fielder’s choice in the fourth for O’Fallon’s other run.

“If you look through the whole game, they didn’t hit one ball on the barrel,” McClure said. “Broken bats, or off the end of the bats. Bloopers. But that’s baseball.”

RELIEF: Burlington’s Simon Gregersen pitched four scoreless innings in relief. He threw 47 pitches, 33 for strikes.

STREAKS: Burlington’s Jackson Jones had his 10-game hitting streak snapped. Jones was hitting .450 in the streak. … Bees shortstop Mason Land extended his hitting streak to four games. 

FAMILY TREE: Mabry is the son of former Major League Baseball player John Mabry.

DEFENSIVE GEMS: Gregersen got some help in the seventh inning. Clayton Stephens led off with a single, then Luke Vinson hit a line drive that Land lunged to catch. Land got up and threw out Vinson had first to complete the double play. Nick Hofmann then doubled, but Gregersen picked him off to end the inning.

UP NEXT: The Bees play host to the Quincy Gems on Sunday in a 2 p.m. game.

Photo: Burlington Bees first baseman Austin Simpson singles in the fourth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)