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Prep baseball: Bulldogs split conference opener with Roosevelt

OTTUMWA — There was no doubt about it Jake Espeland's mind.

No matter what was happening behind him, the Des Moines Roosevelt senior was going to make his run at hitting for the cycle on Monday night in the second game of an Iowa Alliance Conference south division showdown with Ottumwa. Having already tripled, doubled and singled in his first at-bats, Espeland stepped to the plate in the seventh inning needing his fourth home run of the season to complete the feat.

Espeland made good contact with the second pitch he saw from Bulldog relief pitcher Dylan Forney, lining the ball into right field. It wasn't high enough to clear the fence, but it was hit well enough to roll all the way to the fence giving Espeland a chance to complete the cycle with an inside-the-park homer.

"I was busting my butt around those bases," Espeland said. "I wasn't slowing down. I was going for home all the way."

Espeland was able to slide safely across home plate, letting out a huge yell after scoring his second run of the game as part of a four-hit effort in Roosevelt's 12-5 win over the Bulldogs, salvaging a split after Ottumwa's 6-2 win in game one on Monday at Legion Memorial Field.

Officially, Espeland finished the game with a pair of triples to go along with an RBI double in the fourth and a run-scoring single in the fifth. While Espeland was running hard around the bases, a throw back into the infield was initially dropped by Ottumwa infielder Andrew Evans before the Bulldog second baseman recovered the ball and threw a strike to Daltin Doud that nearly caught Espeland sliding across the plate.

Therefore, despite his best intentions, Espeland officially scored on a fielding error after driving in Mays Perlowski with the hit pushing Roosevelt's lead to 11-5 at the time. Either way, Roosevelt got what it needed from Monday's doubleheader getting one win at John Hart Stadium putting the pressure back on Ottumwa to get at least one win in Des Moines against the Roughriders when the two teams face off in a doubleheader on June 20 to at least split the season series between two of the top contenders for the Iowa Alliance south division title.

"They've got to bring it to our house if they're hoping to win the conference," Espeland said. "We're leaving here with a lot of confidence. I think we were finally able to breath a little bit in the second game. We were pretty tight in the first game. When I hit my first triple to open the game, it kind of loosened everyone up."

That opening triple by Espeland was quickly followed by a liner to left hit by Kanoa Lin that brought in Roosevelt's first run of the second game on the sacrifice fly. By comparison, the Roughriders were held without a run for the first three innings by Tucker Long who battled his way through the hottest game of the season thus far for the Bulldogs to pitch his first complete game allowing just one earned run over seven innings while striking out nine batters.

"The heat got to me a little bit," Long said. "I was a little tired coming out of the gate, but I knew I needed to lock in."

Roosevelt (7-6, 3-1 Iowa Alliance) had a chance to strike in the first inning against Long after Lin reached on a single that just got over the head of OHS first baseman Brayden Larkin before a throwing error from Matt Mitchell on a ground ball hit by Andrew Swanda put a pair of Roughriders on base. Chase Thompson tracked down a fly ball to center by Jonah Calderon, moving Lin to third base, before Larkin responded to the Roosevelt challenge smothering a hot grounder hit by George Bell before winning the race to first base to end the threat.

"That first play was a misread and a rough one, but my teammates helped pick me up to give us a chance to get out of the inning," Larkin said. "They gave me the opportunity to make the next play and get us out of that inning."

Both Thompson and Larkin would also step up at the plate in the opening win over the Roughriders. Thompson, batting ninth for Ottumwa, stepped up with two on and two out and put the ball in play using his speed to extend the inning as Perlowski could not throw out the Bulldog junior allowing Mason Gravett to score while extending the inning leading to consecutive hits by Doud and Long that helped bring home two more runs, giving Ottumwa a 3-0 lead.

"I've been going through a big hitting slump," said Thompson, Ottumwa's top golfer in the fall. "The golf swing kind of interferes with that, but Coach (John) Jaeger and I have putting in a lot of works with cam(wood) bats and stuff like that. It obviously paid off."

Thompson would score three runs for Ottumwa in the opening game, finishing the night with three combined hits including an RBI single in the second inning of game two that briefly tied the score at 2-2. Roosevelt pulled within 3-2 of Ottumwa in the opening game after bringing in a pair of runs in the fourth, only for the Bulldogs to respond in the bottom of the inning as Larkin delivered a clutch two-out, two-run single to right before taking off on a steal of second base giving Ottumwa plenty of momentum back to finish off their first conference game of the season.

"I just took my same approach. I like to get deep into counts," Larkin said. "I got a pitch I liked to hit and took it the opposite way. My teammates got in right position, getting to second and third base. I like to thrive off those moments in high-pressure situations like that."

Ottumwa (4-4, 1-1 Iowa Alliance) continued a busy week on Tuesday at Centerville in the third of eight games for the Bulldogs over the span of six days. The Bulldogs return home for a doubleheader with Fort Dodge on Wednesday before heading to Des Moines East for a conference doubleheader on Thursday and a special trip to Busch Stadium in St. Louis to face Oskaloosa on Saturday.