By Derek Shore (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Pierce City, Mo – The third time’s the charm for the Pierce City High School baseball team.
In a tight pitchers duel, Pierce City got to Liberal starter Jacob Dermott the third time through the order when third baseman Donell Kleiboeker broke up the scoreless tie with an RBI double to eventually help the Eagles go on and take a 3-0 victory on Tuesday.
“My goal is to always not strikeout,” Kleiboeker said. “If you put the ball in play or just get on base – anyway to help the team is the best thing. I was just going up there to be able to see some pitches. He gave me the first one down the plate. I was expecting it and had the opportunity to do something with it.”
To make it even more special, Pierce City was able to defeat their intra-conference rivals on Senior Night.
“It is a big deal (winning on Senior Night),” Kleiboeker said. “That was a tight game. I knew they were going to be really good coming in. That is a big conference win for us. That helps us remain in the hunt to be conference champs. That was one of our big goals coming into this game.”
The effort the Eagles received from their senior starter Hunter Hatfield should not be lost in the shuffle.
Hatfield punched out 12 batters, completing a three-hit complete game shutout over the Bulldogs.
“I saw the same thing in him from the last three years,” Pierce City head coach B.J. Curry said. “He does not have an overpowering fastball, but he has a plus breaking ball and he attacks hitters with all three (pitches). He is a great competitor. We feel like when he is on the mound we have a chance (to win).”
From the first inning on, this was a pitchers duel with both hurlers matching each other over the majority of the game.
The Eagles threatened twice early on, including one time in the second inning with runners on first and second with nobody out.
Pierce City did not capitalize against Dermott in that inning, who induced 1-5 groundout followed by a inning-ending double play.
With runners on the corners and two outs in the third inning for the Eagles, Dermott worked around trouble again after Dallas Kleiboeker was caught at home on a double-steal.
“Their kid does a good job of throwing strikes and mixing it up,” Curry said. “They play really good defense. They are really well-coached. We gave them a couple of outs on the bases. That is baseball. Early on, you could tell this was going to be a one to two run game.”
Meanwhile, Liberal could not touch Hatfield. The Bulldogs only had two opportunities with runners in scoring position the entire game.
“I honestly felt great,” Hatfield said. “I felt good. My arm was awesome. I felt pretty strong on the mound.”
And then the third time through the order happened for Pierce City.
Hatfield opened the sixth inning with a leadoff single to set the table.
“I was just trying to get things started and get the dugout pumped,” Hatfield said. “Once somebody gets it going it doesn’t stop. You just keep going.”
The Eagles catcher and three-hole hitter Bill Ashley followed with a single through the left-side. After a lineout by cleanup hitter Hunter Tindell, Kleiboeker broke the scoreless tie with his RBI double.
“Donnell is a tough-minded kid,” Curry said. “He came through for us.”
Senior left fielder Gage Brown put the nail in the coffin for Pierce City, producing a two-run RBI single for the 3-0 win.
“After seeing the first couple of guys hit in the gaps, the plan was to hit it in the gaps like they did,” Brown said.
For Pierce City, Donell Kleiboeker and Ashley tallied two hits each over three at-bats. Dallas Kleiboeker, Hatfield, and Brown singled in three at-bats.
“We were ready to hit fastballs,” Curry added. “We have seniors who have been here. They stepped up and put the barrel on the ball. I told the guys down the line these are the types of games we are going to be in. It is going to be one or two plays right there.
“I have all the confidence in the world that they are going to come through and execute when they need to.”
On the Liberal side, Dermott finished with seven strikeouts over six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. Brandon Overman had two hits in three at-bats while Sean Clark collected a single to round out the Bulldogs offense.
With the win, Pierce City remains unbeaten in SRVC play while improving to 15-4 overall on the season. They travel to Golden City on Wednesday before finishing out the year against Lockwood on Thursday.
Liberal, which dropped their first game in SRVC play, will finish the regular season with a 14-10 overall record. Their next game will be in districts next Monday against either Fair Play or Pleasant Hope.