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Prep baseball: Eagles take hardware from EBF Tournament

Jun. 3—EDDYVILLE — No pitcher has appeared in more games this season for the Pella Christian baseball team than Brecken Ritzert.

Perhaps no pitcher on the Eagles has had a more turbulent season on the mound thus far, either.

In nearly 12 innings over six appearances so far this season, Ritzert has struck out 18 batters and allowed just seven hits. Those hits, however, have produced plenty of runs as 15 walks issued by Ritzert has led to big rallies that has ultimately left the Pella Christian sophomore with a 7.80 ERA.

In his first start of the season, those ups and downs were on display again. In the very first inning against Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont in the third and final game of the Rockets' home triangular tournament, Ritzert walked three straight batters after giving up a lead-off single to Blake Jager, ultimately giving away all of Pella Christian's 3-0 first-inning lead.

Over the next five innings, Ritzert regained allowing just two runs and one hit to the Rockets. That command on the mound, along with a consistent barrage at the plate by the Eagle bats, led to a 16-6 win that clinched the EBF tournament trophy after opening the day with a 10-0 win over North Mahaska that snapped Pella Christian's four-game losing streak entering the day.

"After coming out in that first inning and letting up some of those runs, we knew we couldn't just let that go," Ritzert said. "We came out hot with the bats, got those runs back and came back hot up and down the line-up to keep the lead the rest of the way."

Ritzert's season started with some turbulent times on the mound, coming in to relieve Grant Kelderman just 16 nights earlier while looking to protect a late lead against Sigourney in the season opener for both teams. At first, Ritzert seemed to have the stuff to nail down the win, striking out the side in the sixth sending Pella Christian into the final inning protecting a 7-6 lead over the Savages.

In the seventh, however, Ritzert struggled walking five Sigourney batters allowing five runs to cross the plate as the Savages pulled out an 11-7 victory on Eagle Lane. Ritzert finished with seven walks in his first start of the season on Saturday against the Rockets, but countered by striking out nine EBF batters.

"I could see that coming from the stretch was working lot better, so even in the innings where I didn't have anyone on base, I went with the stretch to get my fastballs going," Ritzert said. "They were behind my fastballs the entire game, so I just kept pumping them into the strike zone to see what they could do about it.

"It was really tough bouncing back after that first game of the season, but it was important to bounce back. Getting my work in during my bullpens and working on getting my pitches in the strike zone, it was nice to see that improvement in this game. That work I've put in really showed in how I closed out the day."

Pella Christian (7-6) and EBF (3-8) had much different results earlier in the day facing North Mahaska, who settled for second place in a tournament that was shortened by one team just two days earlier when Pekin chose to back out on Thursday rather than play a semifinal contest with Pella Christian and a second game either for third place or the championship on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles dominated the Warhawks in the second game of the day behind a one-hit shutout pitched by Logan Gallaher and Garrett Wielard while a three-run homer by Kelderman in the bottom of the first set up by two of the 10 walks issued by North Mahaska pitching set the tone for five-inning win.

"We've got some big games coming up next week, so to be able to save some arms and still come out with two wins was huge for us," Ritzert said. "We've got some tough games coming up, doubleheaders with Oskaloosa and Pella, so being able to save up some arms for those games is nice."

EBF, meanwhile, used what arms were left to get through the day which began early in the morning for the Rockets clearing off tires and tarps off Ron Welsch Field to protect the diamond from showers that moved through the area just hours before first pitch with the Warhawks. EBF used eight different pitchers in the two games, both of which saw the Rockets gain and lose leads while issuing 23 combined walks in the 10-4 loss to North Mahaska and the 16-6 loss to Pella Christian.

"It's hard for our guys to be ready in the morning. They're just not used to playing in the morning," EBF head coach Thomas Hallgren said. "I felt like our guys came out a little sleepy against North Mahaska. We got a lead, but we didn't play very clean and weren't able to hold on to it. There are just some mistakes we made that typically we wouldn't make.

"We played with a lot more energy (against Pella Christian), which was good to see. We threw some guys are a little bit inexperienced and Pella Christian was able to put some distance between us."

Dane Van Mersbergen reached base in all five trips to the plate for North Mahaska against EBF, including a clutch two-out double that drove in the two runs the Warhawks needed to take the lead for good. Jack Kelderman added a pair of run-scoring singles in each of the final two innings while Nolan Anderson delivered a two-run double in the seventh to clinch the opening-game win for North Mahaska.

The Warhawks (4-5) are scheduled to host four games this week, including EBF's South Central Conference rival Cardinal on Tuesday. EBF returns to SCC action at Centerville on Wednesday.