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Blanchard twins team to shine at plate and on mound in Ozark 10-6 victory at Catholic


SPRINGFIELD — As hitter’s backgrounds go, Ozark’s Ethan Blanchard prefers the view from the batter’s box at Catholic compared to the Tigers’ home confines.

With the Irish sporting a dark blue outfield fence at their picturesque facility, along with a towering maple tree beyond their center-field fence, Blanchard saw plenty of white and red Friday. The baseball and its seams were clearly in his sight,  helping him reach base in all five of his plate appearances in Ozark’s 10-6 victory.

Blanchard put together three hits, including a double, and two walks, along with two runs scored and a stolen base.

“I was seeing the ball better than I have been,” Blanchard said. “I could see the spin instantly out of the (pitcher’s) hand. I knew what was coming. That was nice. At our field, we have signs behind center field and one of them is white. Every once in a while, depending on the arm slot, (the ball) clips the white and I can't really see it.”

Blanchard’s breakout game was also precipitated by a bit of tinkering with his hitting mechanics by Ozark coach Justin Sundlie.

“I've been struggling at the plate lately,” Blanchard said. “I changed up my swing. I made it simple. I stopped moving my hands up above my head. Now, I have (the bat) on my shoulder and I lift (it) up and go. When I would move my hands (up), I would be up and out. When I have my hands set, I can go to the ball straight through. It feels comfortable.”

"His bat was coming in and out of the zone real quick. I wanted him to see the ball a little longer,” Sundlie said. “He gets antsy and wants to go get everything. He's got quick hands and a quick bat. Sometimes, I feel he doesn't let the ball travel as much as he should. So, I told him to lower his hands by his shoulders and try to keep his swing as level as possible. All during BP, we've tried to get him to stay hard and level. 

"Whether it's working or not, sometimes just working on something to try to fix (a slump), can build confidence,” he added. “Today, Ethan put three good swings on the ball.”

In recent games, Blanchard had been DH’d for while playing left field or benched altogether. 

“He was one of our best players all last summer, so we've been kind of waiting on this, hoping he would come around,” Sundlie said. “He’s had some good at-bats, just some tough breaks. High school season is so short, you start losing opportunities. Today, he took advantage of his start.”

As a duo, Ethan and his twin brother Landon, enjoyed their best game to date. 

Landon gained the victory with two innings of one-run relief. He inherited a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning and promptly induced two ground balls. With Ozark trailing 5-4, a grounder hit a Catholic runner in between second base and third base, robbing the Irish of a run.

“I was glad about that,” Landon said. “I thought the run counted for a little bit. But they didn't count it, which was good.”

It’s usually no coincidence when Landon is able to get opposing hitters to pound the ball onto the ground.

“My fastball is just a four-seam, but it kind of cuts in and down (on the hitter) and gets a lot of ground balls,” he said.

“Landon has done a real good job on the mound,” Sundlie said. “He’s seeing a lot of innings. He keeps the ball down and everything sinks. He gets a ton of ground balls. He can get a double-play ball if you need him to.”

Landon threw 30 pitches, keeping him eligible to throw today in Ozark’s double-header versus Eureka.

Landon and Ethan place a great value on being twin teammates.

“He’s my best friend,” Landon said. “I don't know what I would do without him. He's always right there with me and always pushing me to be better. We have a little rivalry, but it's all fun. No harm.”

“Having a brother as a teammate, we can work out with each other at home all the time. I love it,” Ethan said. “We can go out to the back yard and throw to each other, feed each other off the tee or throw each other soft-toss. There's a little competition between us. At the end of the day, though, nothing's personal.”

Ozark (12-11) broke away from Catholic (7-8) by scoring two runs in the fifth and four in the sixth, while the Irish put up just one run over the final three innings.

Shortstop Alex Nimmo provided three RBIs, including a two-run double, second baseman Truman Griessel delivered a two-run single, first baseman George Reynolds also collected two RBIs on a fielder’s choice and double and right fielder Rylan Sutton had an RBI single.

The Tigers picked up a 2-0 win at Jopin on Thursday, with winning pitcher Cooper Pumphrey turning in a complete-game gem that included 10 strikeouts.