Time to Stine: Hickman’s DH blasts late three-run homer as Kewpies beat Rock Bridge

The box score doesn’t do Hickman’s 4-2 victory Wednesday over Class 6 No. 1 Rock Bridge any justice. With two outs and a 2-2 count, Hickman’s designated hitter — senior Tyler Stine — stepped back into the batter’s box.

While the Kewpies struggled with runners in scoring position all game, Stine broke the streak, belting a three-run, 330-foot home run to left field in the top of the seventh inning.

Stine put the Kewpies up 4-1, with the homer inches from being foul. The long ball sounded gone off the bat, but Stine had no idea the ball went out until he was rounding first.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Stine said. “I was just like, ‘Let’s go.’ That’s pretty much it.”

The Kewpies struggled to barrel the ball early, rolling over to the right side for much of the first three innings. But in Braden Hemmer’s second plate appearance, the Kewpies’ starting pitcher drove a double into the left-center gap for the first extra-base hit of the contest.

Hemmer was walked before his double and intentionally walked in his following appearance, displaying frustration when the umpire told him to take first base.

“Obviously as a hitter, it’s good — it’s like a compliment,” Hemmer said. “But it’s like, ‘Come on, man.’ Obviously, you want to hit, but it’s also good to get on base. I have faith in the people behind me to get me in.”

Hemmer has owned the batter’s box this season, but what stands out about his approach is a Juan Soto-like shuffle he does before every at-bat.

“I see a lot of good hitters doing that,” Hemmer said. “I just kind of implemented it into my routine to help me a little bit.”

Hickman and Rock Bridge battled in cold and rainy conditions in a rubber match between the aces for the two schools. Bruins senior left-hander Payton Messer found himself in a jam early on, leaving six runners on through three innings.

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While command issues stung Messer, Hemmer threw three no-hit innings to open the contest. Behind solid defense, Hemmer’s early walks and hit batters were saved by two double plays.

Earlier, Hemmer made a diving grab off a bunt attempt by Dane Gray. The right-hander quickly fired to first, doubling up the runner and ending the second inning.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Hemmer found himself with the bases loaded and one out. A line drive off the bat of Messer was stabbed by senior shortstop Carter Abrams and flipped to second to end the inning.

“They’ve gotten better,” coach Mason Mershon said regarding Hickman’s fielding. “We’ve been working hard in practice on their backhands. … We’ve been working on defense on the infield a lot.”

Weather conditions played a major factor in grip, but for Hemmer it was just a part of the game, noting Messer was facing the same obstacle. Walks and hit batters flooded the bases early, but Hemmer came into his own.

In the bottom of the seventh, Mershon took Hemmer off the mound after the starter walked the lone batter he saw. Going the distance wasn’t out of the conversation, but Mershon wasn’t looking past the first batter for Hemmer.

“I don’t know. Next question,” Mershon chuckled. “I don’t know. Looking back on it, I don’t know the answer on that one.”

Senior Jackson Forck — the Kewpies’ flame-throwing righty — entered, carving through the first two batters he saw. A triple off the bat of Austin Stewart brought in the Bruins’ second run of the game, but Forck froze Messer on a full count to end it.

“In our minds and our hearts, we know the kind of team that we can produce and show on the field throughout the year,” Mershon said. “I think it’s just a good boost, and, again, very good team over there, well-coached.”

The Kewpies return to play at 10 a.m. Saturday against Rolla in their first game of a home doubleheader, before playing Jackson at 3 p.m. The Bruins are back on the diamond at 5 p.m. Thursday against Blair Oaks at home.

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