By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SENECA, Mo. – As soon as the ball tipped off the third baseman’s glove, Cole McCollough knew the game was over.
The Monett junior made sure he ran through first base and then joined his team for a raucous celebration on the infield. His bases-loaded single gave the Cubs a 3-2 walk-off win over Carl Junction in the Class 4 District 12 championship game Tuesday night in Seneca.
“I just knew I had to go up there, be calm and relaxed and try to put the ball in play,” McCollough said.
He did just that with a hard-hit grounder to third on a fastball, the first pitch he saw.
Until the fifth inning, McCollough wasn’t even playing. He entered the game after head coach Michael Calhoun pulled starting pitcher Corey Spain, who was under the weather. In his first at bat, McCollough smashed a single to third to score a run and give Monett a 2-0 lead.
“The kid stepped up, had two at bats and knocked in two runs,” Calhoun said. “He hasn’t played a lot. I expect him to play a lot next year for us. Great kid, works hard, doesn’t complain. He did a phenomenal job for us.”
Spain, a senior, cruised in his five innings of work. He allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out six.
He retired the first six batters of the game and got an out whenever he needed it. When Carl Junction put runners at first and second in the top of the third, Spain got a strikeout to end the inning. He got an infield pop out with a runner on second in the fourth, and with a runner at second and just one out in the fifth he got two straight pop outs to end the inning; the second out came on a great over-the-shoulder catch by shortstop Karter Brink.
He worked with a lead most of the game after the Cubs scored in the bottom of the first. Brink, a junior, doubled down the left field line to lead off and later scored on a single by junior Wesley Merriman.
It remained a 1-0 game until McCollough drove in a run in the fifth.
The Bulldogs finally made some noise in the sixth with Spain out of the game. Senior Jeremiah Kennedy reached on a throwing error, junior Cooper Cook walked and sophomore Alex Baker doubled down the third base line to tie the game.
A single and a walk loaded the bases with just one out, but Monett reliever Gunnar Bradley got two strikeouts to escape the jam; the second one looking with a fastball on the outside corner and a full count.
Carl Junction threatened again in the seventh. Sophomore Carson Johnson reached on an error and advanced to second on a passed ball. With no outs, Kennedy lined out to the center fielder and Johnson was doubled off second.
“We hang our hats on being aggressive,” Carl Junction coach Jake Stevenson said. “Jeremiah swung it really well there it’s just tough luck sometimes in this game.”
“Corey Spain’s a really good player and one of the better arms in our area so we knew it was going to be tough,” he said. “We knew it was probably just going to be a timely hit here or there. We had the approach of we need to keep their offense in check and try to keep it close and try to strike there towards the end of the game.”
The Cubs were a team on a mission in the bottom half of the inning. Sophomore Estin MdcBroom singled and was replaced by pinch runner Cole Davis, a sophomore. Senior Alex Rivera drew a full count walk, then senior Alejandro Groomer nearly ended it with a drive to deep right. It ended up a single, setting the stage for McCollough.
“I think we were locked in,” Calhoun said. “Gunnar Bradley did a phenomenal job the last two innings to earn that win, got out of some trouble and did a great job. They wanted to get it done. When you’ve got a team that’s determined and focused, they can do a lot of damage. I’m excited to see what we can do the next two weeks.”
Monett will play the District 11 winner on May 21. Hollister and Springfield Catholic were playing for that title on Tuesday.