By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Hollister, Mo. — Cameron Soetaert smuggled a bag of meatballs into Springfield Catholic’s dugout Tuesday evening.
Judging from the game’s result, it probably won’t be the last time.
The Fighting Irish posted a thrilling, 6-3 victory over Hollister in the Class 4 District 11 title game.
Catholic starter Will Duff threw five and one-third innings, scattered seven hits and posted four strikeouts.
The Vanderbilt signee also crushed a two-run home run in the first inning to give the Irish an early lead.
It turns out Catholic’s success, according to Duff, was inspired by Soetaert’s pregame pep talk and surprise prop.
“I don’t know what it was, but before one of the games [Soetaert] said, ‘We’re gonna marinate these meatballs,’” Duff said. “It just stuck, and now we love saying marinate the meatballs. Right before the [pregame speech] today, he pulled out a bag of meatballs from his shirt, and it pumped us up and got us going.”
While the new good luck charm from the frozen foods aisle might not deserve all the credit for Catholic’s victory, the Irish did benefit from timely hitting throughout the lineup.
Six different hitters notched RBIs in the game; however, a resilient Hollister squad continued to threaten at every turn.
Following Duff’s two-run blast in the first, the Tigers answered in the top of the third with one of their own.
With two outs and a runner on second base, Logan Armitage cleared the fence in left centerfield to tie the game up.
After upsetting two-time defending state champion Aurora the night before, Hollister head coach Trent Oxenreider was eager to show the victory wasn’t a mere fluke.
“We might be down early, but I know my kids,” Oxenreider said. “They just play baseball, they want to compete and things usually don’t get them down. I knew we were going to have a chance when we kept [Catholic] at two for a couple innings and I thought, when it was our time, we were going to punch through.”
Despite the Hollister rally, Catholic kept its cool and, more importantly, kept grinding out runs.
Ryan George’s crucial third-inning single allowed Catholic to recapture the lead at 3-2, the Irish followed up with a pair of RBIs in the fourth from Jeremy Rader and Collin Davis.
With his team back in the lead, Duff was able to keep his focus on a night where he struggled at times to locate pitches.
“I don’t think I had my A-stuff the entire game,” Duff said. “But the good thing about that is I had a whole team behind me. When we needed two outs, we got a double-play ball. When we just needed to get out of a jam, we picked off somebody. It all kind of came together in the end, which is nice.”
Catholic head coach Courtney Spitz credited his senior ace for battling through adversity and leading by example.
“[Duff] is one of the strongest kids that I’ve ever coached,” Spitz said. “He’s a special guy, and he’s our leader on the field and off the field. It was a relief to have him ready to go for this championship game, and I know our guys feel that any time he’s on the mound, his B-stuff is just as good as anyone else’s A-stuff.”
Hollister was able to trim the deficit to 5-3 in the top of the fifth off Layton Morgan’s single to center, however, the Irish were quick to respond once again.
Carter Bither drove another Catholic run in the fifth to push the lead to 6-3 and secure the victory.
After the game, Spitz praised his team’s resilient nature and delivered a subtle culinary nod to its newest good-luck charm.
“The recipe for success is pound the strike zone, play defense behind your pitcher and get some runs,” Spitz said. “That’s easier said than done, but with this team, we feel like we’re in every single game — it doesn’t matter the lead. We ride our guys, and we’re going to battle it out to the end.”
Catholic and its bag of meatballs now move on to the sectional round to face Monett, the District 12 champion. The Irish will host the May 21 matchup.
Class 4 District 11 Championship: Springfield Catholic – 6, Hollister – 3
Hollister 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 — 3
Catholic 2 0 1 2 1 0 x — 6
Hits: Hollister – 7, Catholic – 7
Errors: Hollister – 1, Catholic – 2
LOB: Hollister – 8, Catholic – 10
2B: Hollister (Logan Armitage – 1), Catholic (Jeremy Rader – 1, Gage Goss – 1)
HR: Hollister (Armitage – 1), Catholic (Will Duff – 1)
RBI: Hollister (Armitage – 2, Layton Morgan – 1), Catholic (Carter Bither – 1, Duff – 1, Rader – 1, Collin Davis – 1, Ben Galligos – 1, Ryan George – 1)
Avery Weber (3.00 IP, 0K, 4H, 3BB, 1HBP)
Coltin Baur (1.67 IP, 1K, 3H, 2BB)
Clay Kemp (0.33 IP, 1K 0H, 0BB)
Layton Morgan (1.00 IP, 0K, 0H, 0BB, 1HBP)
Will Duff (5.67 IP, 4K, 7H, 3BB, 2HBP)
Collin Davis (1.33 IP, 1K, 1BB)
Time of game: 2:07