Lebanon and Rolla advanced the the Class 5 – Distirct 10 semifinals on Saturday.
Yellowjackets prevail late against upset-minded Central
For more than five innings of play, the Lebanon Yellowjackets (18-8) received all they could handle on Saturday – fighting off a scrappy Central (8-17) squad by a 5-2 final to advance to the C5D10 semifinal round.
Trailing by a count of 2-0 in the fourth against a team that had less than half as many wins as them in the regular season, the third-seeded Yellowjackets managed to rally late and bring in five unanswered runs over the final three frames – allowing the Lebanon faithful, as well as head coach Dustin Young, to breathe a sigh of relief.
“At the end of the day, it's a win,” Young said after the win. “That's what you've got to have this time of year and we were able to do what we needed to, to get it.”
Lebanon's early struggles came compliments of Central starting pitcher Sasidhar Karuparti, whose anomalous pitching style threw off the timing of Lebanon's potent lineup.
“Early on, their pitcher did a phenomenal job of keeping us off-balance,” Young said of Karuparti. “It was hard to get him squared up.”
Perhaps the slowest-throwing pitcher Lebanon has faced all season, Karuparti made up for what he lacked in pitch speed with impressive control and letting his defense go to work.
For the first three innings, defense didn't let the junior down as a Chris King outfield assist and an unassisted double play by third baseman Bryce Marion helped Karuparti escape whenever trouble came calling.
“Even in the cage no one throws that slow, so it's hard to practice that or emulate it,” Central head coach Bill Shoemaker said in reference to his pitcher. “If you throw slow, you have to throw strikes and they have to play defense behind you.”
An error and a fielder's choice led to the first two runs for the No. 6 seed Bulldogs in the top of the fourth, but the Yellowjackets broke through against Karuparti and knotted the score in the bottom half of the inning, thanks to three consecutive errors by the Central infield and a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Lebanon's Kenyon Breedlove.
Lebanon added its third run to take the lead in the fifth via a wild pitch by Joseph Cummings, who came in to relieve Karuparti with one on and nobody out in the inning. One frame later, the Yellowjackets all but ended any hopes of a Central upset by tacking on a pair of insurance runs and continuing to ride the arm of junior starter Christian Watson.
Starting on the mound for just the third time this year at the varsity level, Watson overcame a shaky fourth inning and held the Bulldogs to just two runs on three hits in the complete-game victory. In addition, Watson struck out seven batters and walked three to improve to a perfect 3-0 in 2016.
“He's a kid that we expect will do a lot of big things for us in his career here and he showed why today,” Young said of Watson. “He had a good fastball, good command and his off-speed was good.”
Lebanon takes on No. 2 seed Hillcrest in the second semifinal game on Monday.
Rolla takes advantage of key error to eliminate Waynesville
Sometimes in sports, one miscue is all it takes to spell the difference between victory and defeat.
The fourth-seeded Waynesville Tigers (10-15) found that out the hard way on Saturday afternoon as a dropped fly ball led to three big runs and an eventual 4-1 win for No. 5 seed Rolla (16-10) in Class 5, District 10 first-round action in Willard.
The crucial play occurred in a scoreless game in a top of the second inning which began with Tigers starting pitcher Trey Simpson loading the bases with only one out and Rolla center fielder Brett Gonzalez stepping into the box.
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Working against the high-energy Simpson, Gonzalez lifted a fly ball into fairly deep right field, but the ball fell to the ground opening the floodgates for all three Rolla baserunners to touch home plate and grab a loud 3-0 lead for their team.
“One of the things when you get into this playoff-type deal here is to take advantage of opportunities that you get,” Rolla head coach Clint Longwell said. “Fortunately for us, [Waynesville] missed it and we were able to score some runs there.”
After a walk to Samuel Remillard, first baseman Zachary Studdard stretched the lead to four with an RBI single to left – further pouring salt into an open wound for Waynesville.
“That's baseball, that happens every now and then,” Tigers head coach Scott Turner said of the miscue. “You can't dwell on one play. One play doesn't lose the game for you.”
The 4-0 advantage would prove to be more than enough for Rolla senior hurler Sean Young, who used the momentum gained in the pivotal second inning to ultimately throw six innings of one-run, two-hit baseball despite periodically running into trouble by allowing six walks.
“He went through stretches there where he kind of lost just a little bit, but he was able to help himself out,” said Longwell of his starter. “Being a senior and being able to deal with those pressure situations, it's always a good thing when you've got somebody like that out there.”
Young's sixth free pass of the contest came in the bottom of the sixth to leadoff batter Ryan Pendleton, but Young quickly killed any thoughts of a Tigers rally by inducing a 4-6-3 double play and getting an easy groundout – much to the visible delight of Rolla's man on the mound.
“I like to play with a lot of emotion, it just gets me going,” Young said. “Especially playing a rival in Waynesville, it's kind of a hostile situation but I live for those things. It's why I love pitching on the mound during those type games.”
Simpson was a workhorse on the mound for Waynesville in a gutsy losing effort – going the distance while yielding seven hits, walking four batters and striking out nine.
Rolla moves on to the district semifinal round and will face host and top-seeded Willard on Monday.