The tone from each was a bit ambiguous, but one Ozark player suggested AJ Gardner belonged in the NFL as he jogged the bases in the third inning Thursday night. Another quipped back that maybe he was exactly where he belonged.
The Sedalia outfielder took his place at the top of the MINK League home run leader chart with that dinger, his fifth of the season, then added his sixth later in a 12-5 win over the Generals at Liberty Park Stadium.
Gardner’s second of the night wasn’t as emphatic, but it came at a more critical time, with the two teams tied 5-5 before Sedalia exploded with a seven-run eighth inning.
A walk to Cole Taylor and a bunt single by Baxter Mays prompted the Generals to pull Sam Tiller, but his replacement, righty Manny Carucci, couldn’t navigate Ozark out of trouble. After a sacrifice bunt by Blake Ford moved the runners over, Carucci walked pinch-hitter Kyle Clayton, Tre Turner and Alex Hoff, scoring both Taylor and Mays.
Jake Lufft doubled to center for his third hit of the game, scoring Clayton and Turner, then Gardner took a 1-0 pitch that curved just barely fair of the foul pole in left field.
“It was a fastball up-and-in that jammed me a little bit, but I did what I could and it happened for me again,” Gardner said. “It was right down the line the whole way, so I don’t know if I got lucky or not, but the umpire called it fair so I took what I got.”
After a four-run, five-inning start by Brandon Babin, the Sedalia bullpen got in done through Jordan Mendenhal, who allowed just one run in three innings, and Sam Danker, who shut the door in the ninth to improve the Bombers to 9-3 on the year.
Sedalia’s coaching deck got a shuffle for Thursday’s game. Bombers head coach Craig McAndrews was absent for the birth of he and his wife Kayla’s first child, leaving assistant Jordan Dey in charge and handing first base duties to a recovering Brice Pannier.
“Kayla was at the hospital and I got the call yesterday when we were going to go down to Ozark, then we ended up getting rained out,” Dey said. “Craig told me last night after baby Cal was delivered that I’d have it for the next couple days, so I’m really excited for it...I’ve learned from great coaches at college, and I think it’s prepped me to be in this situation.”
The Bombers have a pair of games on the road over the weekend, starting with Jeff City on Friday, before the All-Star Break, with this year’s festivities taking place in St. Joseph.