By BRADEN LAYER
---- — After striking out in two of its first three at bats, the Effingham offense flipped the switch. Drew Levitt sent a two-run blast over the left field wall to get the Hearts on the board, and the offense wouldn't stop from there.
Effingham scored runs in each of the first four innings, and did enough defensively to hold on to a 8-5 victory over visiting North Clay.
"That was great," Effingham coach Chris Fleener said about the early lead. "After that it was like cat and mouse; we score a couple then they score a couple."
Before North Clay could cross home plate, however, Effingham added another pair of runs in the second. Kevin Daugherty opened the inning with a single to right center, and Adam Koester advanced the runner with a sacrifice bunt.
Now on second, Daugherty reached home off a single from Jeff Coleman that was lined down the left-field line. Coleman scored two batters later off a wild pitch to give Effingham a 4-0 Hearts lead.
"I don't know if we really made it off the bus," Cardinals coach John Frech said. "In the future, that's got to get better."
The four-run lead didn't last long, as Frech's squad first showed signs of life in the third inning. Adam Cox ripped an RBI double to left center that scored Nate Micklautz, and Logan Hilderbrand showcased his power with a two-run homer that soared over the center-field fence one batter later to cut the deficit to just one run.
"I don't think we woke up until the times when it mattered," Frech said. "We had our spurts, they weren't going to give us much."
Effingham answered the call in the bottom of the inning, matching North Clay's three runs to extend the lead back to four. The Hearts only had one hit in the third, but managed to score a trio of runs off two costly North Clay errors. The final came when Micklautz launched a ball high to third from behind the plate in an effort to pick off a runner, allowing Matt Steffen to coast home.
"We made three early errors that led to them getting unearned runs," Frech said. "That was a huge problem."
The Cardinals tacked on two runs in the fourth inning, but it wouldn't be enough. Drew and Dirk Levitt combined to throw the final 3.2 innings of shutout baseball, surrendering no hits in the process.
"We were able to keep the lead on them," Fleener said. "In a game like this, it's kind of a tough deal, I'm proud of our boys for sticking with it."
The Hearts' final run of the day was scored in the bottom of the fourth. Khye Heuerman lined a double to center field in his only at-bat of the game, and scored two batters later on a sac fly to left field from Dirk Levitt.
The Levitts had a great night both at the mound and at the plate, combining for three RBIs. Drew had a single, double and the initial two-run homer to really fuel the offensive outburst.
"That's nice to have a senior step up like that," Fleener said. "It gives the team a little bit of energy."
Preston Walker started the game for Effingham on the mound, giving way in the third to Braydon Bone after allowing three runs on three hits and three walks. Bone pitcher one inning in relief before Drew Levitt took over, who tossed 1.2 frames until Dirk came on for the save.
"If you look at it, Preston did a great job starting, Bone came in and got us out of a jam," Fleener said. "Then unfortunately he got in a jam, then Drew stepped up. It's a team game, someone's got to step up."
The Hearts will try to continue to put their best foot forward today when they travel to Neoga.
Cox picked up the loss for North Clay, allowing seven runs in three innings on five hits. Cox struck out five Effingham batters, but Frech said his time will have to get better in all aspects to get back to their winning ways.
"We didn't play to our capabilities," he said. "We could have a quick turnaround and not win many games. This was a big game, we knew that going in."
North Clay plays Thursday at Altamont.
North Clay 003 200 0 5 4 3
Effingham 223 100 x 8 7 1
WP - Walker LP - Cox
North Clay: Cox (2B, RBI); Hilderbrand (2 R HR, 3 RBI); Clifton (2B);Walker (1B).
Effingham: Carie (1B); Di. Levitt (RBI); Dr. Levitt (1B, 2B, 2 R HR, 2 RBI); Daugherty (1B, RBI); Coleman (1B, RBI); Heuerman (2B).