By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
OZARK — The Webb City Lady Cardinals (7-1) are running on fumes this week.
The Cardinals went 4-1 last weekend in the Joplin Tournament, falling only to Rock Bridge, and after a game Tuesday and practice one day later, a few players caught some sleep on the bus ride to Ozark Thursday — when the pregame relaxation paid dividends — as the visitors edged the host, 8-5, for the Central Ozark Conference win.
While the offense and defense were near textbook form, the win commenced with the pitching performance of junior Haidyn Berry — who allowed five runs in seven innings while striking out five.
Berry allowed one run in the first inning before settling in and mowing down the Ozark offense for five of the next six frames.
“We showed up today and competed and that is all we ask; is to come out here and compete every game,” Berry said. “We knew that we had to compete against Ozark. We needed some revenge from last year. We came out here and gave them the best we had. I was pretty proud of my girls. They were behind me the whole way.”
The Cardinals struck first when back-to-back RBI hits by Berry and Karson Culver gave the early 2-0 lead in the first.
Ozark’s Kenna Mayfield’s RBI in the bottom of the first was all the scoring Ozark mustered until they plated four in the seventh.
Berry said knowing the defense is sound and the offense has quick-strike ability allow her to focus on her bread and butter: her rising fastball.
“It is freaking awesome,” Berry said of the defense. “It is awesome to have them behind me. I can trust they are going to go hard for every ball hit at them. I am a rise-ball pitcher, so it’s good to have that [defense].”
Offensively, the aforementioned quick-strike offense was on full display — whether it was hitting the gaps in right-center field, or executing a textbook sacrifice.
“It was a great team effort from the beginning. We were executing bunts, [with] everybody doing their jobs, playing their roles,” head coach Shauna Friend said. “That is how we got and stayed on top.”
The win was the perfect balancing act, as the offense stayed hungry and proactive throughout the tilt, and Berry’s ability to limit the damage for five innings complemented the loud bats.
“Haidyn had a great outing,” Friend continued. “She threw well, and she also had a good offensive game, as well as several others. Just putting it all together. It wasn’t just any one person tonight, and I think that is what it is going to take this season.”
A sac fly by Culver started the fourth-inning production for Friend’s Lady Cardinals, followed by Berry’s slide across the plate on a passed ball, and Kaylyn Gilbert’s RBI on the fielder’s choice.
For the Cardinals, balance will be key as they navigate their way through the Central Ozark Conference.
“Going forward, I think this was a great game for the girls to really get the sense of how it does take everybody. Everyone had some kind of offensive input in this game. That was great to see in the offense,” Friend said.
Striking first was one of many bullet points that illuminated the offensive game for Berry and company.
Added Friend: “Definitely, that first inning, we wanted to make sure we scored, so that is why we played a little bit of small ball. Score early, score often.”
That proactive approach was evident in the sixth inning, when back-to-back RBI hits by Gilbert and Emma Welch ignited one final spark, which was capped off by an Ozark throwing error, plating the final run for the Cardinals.
Ozark added four in the seventh to make things a bit more nerve-racking for anyone supporting the blue and red.
The Tigers’ Abby Ford and Mayfield each drove in a pair.
For Ozark, starting pitcher Hattie Depee allowed five runs in four innings, before giving way to pitcher Savannah Hughes, who allowed three runs.