By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Ozark, Mo. — Alejandro Groomer realized his mistake just in time during Monett’s Class 4 sectional round matchup against Springfield Catholic.
Hitless in his first two at-bats, the superstitious senior made a crucial equipment change prior to his third plate appearance in the fifth inning.
The swap appeared to pay off for Monett, as Groomer laced a two-run double to help the Cubs break a 3-3 tie and advance to the quarterfinals with a 5-4 victory.
When asked about possible adjustments at the plate, Groomer was quick to deadpan the reasoning.
“I’m a superstitious guy,” Groomer said. “My first two at-bats, they were rough. I was wearing a white Franklin batting glove, and then I went to my [black] Under Armor. First at-bat after that and first pitch — that double. It felt great, man. I’m still kind of processing this right now.”
Mental games aside, Monett found itself in early jeopardy.
Starting pitcher Corey Spain got off to a shaky start, as Springfield Catholic took advantage of a two-out error to extend the first inning.
Following a lead-off triple from Carter Bither, the Irish jumped on the board with an RBI sacrifice fly from Will Duff. A two-run double from Ben Galligos later in the inning gave Catholic a 3-0 advantage.
While Monett loaded the bases during its half of the first inning, the Cubs were unable to bring any runs home,
Head coach Michael Calhoun urged his team to keep calm and patient between innings.
“We kept battling,” Calhoun said. “Down 3-0 to a really good team in the first inning. We had them loaded and couldn’t score, but the kids just kept coming, and the best word to say is resiliency.”
That resiliency finally paid off in the third inning, as one- and two-run singles from Alex Rivera and Spain knotted the score at 3-3 and gave the Cubs new life against Catholic starter Jeremy Rader.
In the fifth Estin McBroom and Rivera reached on back-to-back singles with one out, setting the stage for Groomer’s heroics.
Calhoun praised his first baseman’s patient approach to late-game situations.
“Alejandro’s been big for us in big situations all year,” Calhoun said. “When he relaxes his hands and doesn’t try to do too much, he’s a very dangerous hitter. He did that in a huge spot to give us that two-run cushion, and I was really, really happy with the way he performed.”
With Spain running up near the pitch-count limit, Calhoun brought in Dale Slater in the sixth inning to preserve the lead.
The senior right-hander was ready for the challenge.
“Coach told me earlier this week to be prepared,” Slater said. “I was prepared to go play second base in the sixth, and then I saw Corey with his outfield mitt. I knew at that moment — I was, like, ‘It’s my time. I need to get my head on straight and perform like I need to.’”
And perform, he did.
Slater retired six of the final seven batters and notched three strikeouts to earn the save and secure a quarterfinal berth for the Cubs.
After punctuating his performance with a game-ending strikeout, Slater’s joy was temporarily put on hold as he realized he was about to be swarmed by his teammates.
“Honestly, when I kind of ran off the field a little bit, I saw everybody coming and was, like, ‘OK, I need to get prepared for this one,’” Slater said. “I took my hat and my glove off and was, like, ‘All right, this is going to get intense.’”
For Catholic and head coach Courtney Spitz, the loss marks the end of an 18-9 campaign.
“The ending is never satisfactory unless you win the last one,” Spitz said. “We didn’t get a couple of breaks to go our way this game, but that’s baseball. And that’s why it’s incredibly hard to win at this time of the year. It’s hard to tell high school kids — for some of them — that this may be the last time to lace it up, but I’m proud of my guys.”
Next up for Monett (19-6) is a quarterfinal round matchup on Thursday, May 23, against either Helias Catholic or Marshfield, who were pushed to a Wednesday start due to weather.
Class 4 Sectional Final: Monett – 5, Springfield Catholic – 4
Monett 0 0 3 0 2 0 0 — 5
Catholic 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 — 4
Hits: Monett – 9, Catholic – 2
Errors: Monett – 4, Catholic – 1
LOB: Monett – 9, Catholic – 4
2B: Monett (Alex Rivera, Alejandro Groomer), Catholic (Ben Galligos)
3B: Catholic (Carter Bither)
RBI: Monett (Groomer – 2, Corey Spain – 2, Rivera), Catholic (Galligos – 2, Will Duff)
Corey Spain (5.00 IP, 6K, 2H, 2BB)
Dale Slater (2.00 IP, 3K, 0H, 1BB)
Jeremy Rader (4.33 IP, 1K, 8H, 2BB, 1HBP)
Zach Shelangoski (2.67 IP, 1K, 1H, 2BB)
Time of game: 2:04