The Cubs are .500 on the year at 2-2 and 5-5 overall. The Bulldogs are 3-1 and 10-6 overall.
Gauging momentum in sport is typically as easy as taking note of the win-loss record. For teams in transition, when victory is outpacing defeat, they're labeled "upstart" or "contender," stoking the faith and then, expectation. For teams mired in losses, it's known as a rebuilding year.
Then there's the purgatory of sport -- the mixed bag of spotty play, spotty success -- mediocrity.
Three plays in the past two games portray the Cubs season in another kind of realm, a hardball reality burrowed in the cold digits of five-and-five:
* On Tuesday, the Cubs fell to Barry County rival Cassville, 5-4. So did their pitcher, junior Jesse Bremer, when he absorbed a line-drive to his gloved hand.
* Yet Bremer played first base last night against Carl Junction and put the first Cubs' run on the board when he led off the fifth inning with a hit. Resiliency in two forms, getting past the physical to be game competitive.
* Down 5-2 going into the top of the seventh, the Cubs went to work and had the tying run at the plate several times, making contact but succumbing to pop-up defeat.
|Enter the learning-to-win phenomenon. Often an abstract notion for a young roster of athletes, it's about getting over the surmountable hurdle of sticky game situations on a consistent basis.|
On the ballfield Thursday night, the Cubs again came up against the border dividing ability from execution.
"When we're playing good teams, we can't make small mistakes and win," said Cubs Coach Michael Calhoun.
The Cubs left seven runners on base, including the pair ready to scamper home when twin pop-ups ended the game.
"We didn't capitalize," said catcher Jake Smith. "That's the story of every loss so far."
|"Actually," argued the junior, "this makes me think we're close to breaking out.|
"We're stacked. Andy (Hagedorn) crushes the ball," observed Smith of his pitcher/outfielder teammate. "Look at the numbers that Spencer (Witt) has put up for four years."
Smith can count himself among the batters and playmakers that give his team the talent equal to the better teams in the region. He hit over .400 most of last year. This year, his average has soared to .514 while taking to a new position behind the plate.
"I feel I've learned a lot about baseball while catching," Smith said. "It's a lot tougher than people may think. You have to focus -- it's not automatic.
"It's also made me a better hitter," Smith added. "I've gotten used to picking up the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand."
Another three hits at Carl Junction supports his confidence, but it's tempered by the moments that backfire.
"After I hit a line drive up the middle - that their pitcher (Bulldogs' Jake Stevenson) had to get out of the way of - I thought I owned him."
That was inning two. Inning four was Smith's admitted lesson at the plate, when a surprise curve ball resulted in a pop-up out.
Such moments of education sum up the growing pains for the Monett Cubs this season.
One inning has spelled defeat in three of the team's five losses: the opener at Mac County, game two at Parkview and again last night - when Monett lapsed in the bottom of the fourth, giving up a rash of hits and errors for Carl Junction's five-run win.
It was a compressed game with all of the runs confined to back-to-back batting by the teams after the first three innings went scoreless. After Carl Junction's runs came in the bottom of the fourth, Monett came back with two runs in the top of the fifth, before punching air with the fruitless rally in the seventh.
An eight-hit production rendered but two runs for Monett. Carl Junction's six hits took advantage of three Cub errors to capture the win.
Both pitchers, Monett's Marcus McCaffrey and Carl Junction's Jake Stevenson, went the distance.
Monett is slated to play Friday afternoon and all day Saturday at the Monett Invitational Tournament when East Newton, Purdy and Seneca visit the North Park complex.
Friday games: Purdy vs. Monett, 4:30 p.m.; and East Newton vs. Seneca, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday games: East Newton vs. Monett at 10 a.m.; East Newton vs. Purdy at noon; and Seneca vs. Monett at 2 p.m.