By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
JOPLIN, Mo. – After a dominant six innings of work, Willard junior Grant Harris was taking none of the credit.
“Everything today, I’d like to give the credit to my pitching coach that passed away earlier this year, Justin Atchison,” Harris said. “It was all for him.”
Atchison, a Willard assistant, died in a hunting accident last November. But his work was on display Tuesday as Harris helped pitch the Tigers to a 10-1 victory against Webb City in a Class 5 sectional at Missouri Southern’s Warren Turner Field.
Listed as a shortstop on the roster, the 5-foot-10 right-hander allowed just one hit and a run in the first inning and later retired 13 straight batters. He struck out seven.
“I know the defense I have behind me is probably one of the best defenses in the state,” he said. “I had the confidence to attack.”
“I knew today when I woke up it was going to be a good day,” he said. “I felt confident. I trusted that my teammates could get it done.”
The Cardinals struck first in the game when sophomore Treghan Parker hit a stand-up triple and scored on a groundout by senior Cade Beason in the bottom of the first.
Willard tied it up in the top of the second when catcher Cole Biellier, a junior, belted a home run to left field. The Tigers took a 3-1 lead in the third when sophomore Blake Hultgren and junior Garrett Rice drew walks, and senior Noah Wooldridge and Harris singled to the left side.
After that, Willard was firmly in control.
Harris retired the side in order in the third and fourth, and then the floodgates opened for the Willard offense in the fifth.
The Tigers sent 11 batters to the plate and scored six runs on four hits. Junior Ethan Thompson hit a ground rule double to left – the only extra-base hit in the inning – and Harris, junior Tyler Harre and senior Jacob VanDoren each singled in runs.
Willard knocked Webb City starter Cade Beason out and forced another pitching change before the inning was over.
The big lead made things even easier for Harris.
“Just being able to trust my pitches so much more than I could when they scored one in the first inning,” he said. “I didn’t get down or discouraged, I knew we could pull it out but when we got the lead it was a huge relief.”
Harre drove in Willard’s 10th run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
“We talked before the game about how you have to add on in those middle innings,” Willard coach Scott McGee said. “Early in the game there’s a lot of emotion. Playing in those middle innings is really big. Biellier’s home run to tie it in the second with two outs and nobody on was huge. Once we got the 3-1 lead and just kept on rolling when they went to the bullpen was huge for us. I thought we had really mature at-bats today.”
Harris exited the mound after six innings and 75 pitches. Junior Elijah Stoops needed just 11 pitches to finish off the game in the seventh with two groundouts and a strikeout.
“Grant Harris gave us a great start,” McGee said. “We like playing on this field and it was one of those things where our offense all year, we had a like a two week lull but otherwise our offense has been really good and today we came out and hit really well. This is kind of the way we envisioned our team playing this year and it’s how we’ve played the last few weeks.”
“I just can’t say enough about Grant,” he said. “He’s really a shortstop who just kind of pitches on the side. He’s been great for us every single time.”
Rice drew three walks and scored three runs; Wooldridge, Harris, and Harre each drove in two runs and scored one; and Biellier scored twice and drove in a run.
“I don’t think the kids ever doubt we’re going to win,” McGee said. “As coaches you’re always a little bit leery. Webb’s a talented team. We were worried about that. I think our kids are pretty focused right now, we’re just trying to enjoy every minute and not take any of these days for granted because it’s a great time to be in the final eight.”
Tuesday marked the second big win for Willard against Webb City this year; The Tigers won 11-1 on April 16.
Webb City ends the year 17-12.
Willard, now 28-6, will play Thursday against the winner of Camdenton vs. Glendale. Those teams will play at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Camdenton.