Cole Smith was ready for the moment, and it showed.
“That’s the spot I wanted to be in,” the Ozark senior said. “Anything he wanted to throw me, I was going to crush it. That’s what happened.”
With his team locked in a 2-2 game in the top of the seventh against conference rival Republic, Smith stepped to the plate with runners at the corners and nobody out. He lined a single to center, scoring Parker Hanks and lifting Ozark to a 3-2 win on Tuesday evening at Republic High School.
Smith, who started the day 0-for-2, had to make an in-game adjustment to his approach at the plate. He finished 2-for-4 with a run scored and the game-winning RBI. Clearly, it paid off.
“I was almost too aggressive (in the first two at-bats),” Smith admitted. “After the second at-bat, I realized I just needed to shorten up and get my bat on the same plane as the ball. It did good things for me.”
Early on Tuesday, the story wasn’t Smith. It was Ozark’s (5-5, 1-0 Central Ozark Conference) starting pitcher Andrew Fedje, who, after seeing his offense spot him a couple early runs, retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced and didn’t allow a hit until the fifth.
“Andrew’s one of those guys that changes speeds and just slops it up there,” Ozark coach Mike Essick said. “Tip your hat to him. For six innings, he went out there and battled.”
Fedje allowed only four hits and two runs in six innings of work, striking out one and walking one.
Gage Morris’ leadoff single in the fifth ended his no-no and opened the floodgates, so to speak. Three more Republic (5-6, 0-1 COC) batters notched hits in the frame, and, after Chandler Coates dumped a two-RBI single to right, the game was tied.
“Our mood obviously went down then,” Smith said. “They got all the momentum, but we’re not a team that gets down on each other. We had Fedje on the hill, we have confidence in him, and … even though we don’t have the momentum right there, we weren’t worried about it. Not at all.”
Ozark responded. Facing Republic’s top pitcher Coates—a University of New Mexico commit—Ozark rallied in the seventh. Curt Gracey dropped a double down the right-field line. Hanks laid down a sacrifice bunt but reached first base safely when Coates, instead of throwing to first, tried to nab Gracey at third. His throw was late, setting the stage for Smith’s game-winning hit.
Coates surrendered nine hits and three runs in seven innings on Tuesday, striking out six and walking three.
Republic had a chance to tie in the bottom of the seventh. Against closer Clayton Engel, Republic’s Landin Sigman roped a one-out double to the right field fence, but couldn’t get him in. Engel got a strikeout and groundout to end the threat.
Hanks was 2-for-4 at the plate for Ozark with a run and two stolen bases in the win. Noah Tucker also went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Ozark 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 3 9 0
Republic 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 2 5 0
Ozark: Hanks 2, Smith 2, Tucker 2, Barnes, Hill, Gracey (2B)
Republic: Morris, Sigman (2B), Bauer, Gentry (2B), Coates