Kickapoo advances past Ozark with seventh-inning comeback

By John Miller (For

Springfield, Mo. – Down to its final strike, the Kickapoo Chiefs found a way to fight off elimination.

Jacob Murrell took a fastball from Forrest Barnes and ripped it into the right-centerfield gap, scoring the game-tying run. Five pitches later, a pitch got past Ozark’s catcher, bringing Murrell home with the game-winning run in a 2-1 district semifinal Kickapoo win on Monday night at Kickapoo High School.

The win didn’t come without controversy, though.

The count was 2-2 on Kickapoo batter Cole McCarville with two outs and Murrell on third. Barnes’ pitch broke inside and got away from Ozark catcher Chuck Hill. Ozark said it hit him. Kickapoo wasn’t sure. The umpires ruled it did not. (See video below)

Many people in Ozark coach Mike Essick’s position would’ve made a scene, berating the umpires for a season-ending call. Following a brief delay while both teams waited for the umpires to reappear on the field and deliver an explanation of the final call, Essick was nothing but class.

“Hey, it’s a high school baseball game,” he said. “Oh, the final play, but that had noth-, you know what I mean? We were in control of our own destiny. One out in the seventh, throwing a one-hitter, and we hit a guy in the helmet. Then we leave an 0-2 pitch, so what are you going to say? You know what I mean?

“Our catcher said the ball hit the batter, which the batter took off for first. Obviously, it was 2-2, nobody saw him even try to swing. Chuck said it hit him, that’s why he took off for first so it should have been a dead ball. But am I going to sit here and say anything about the umpiring? They did a great job. How many times did we strike out? How many times did we leave runners stranded? That had nothing to do with umpiring. We were in control of our own destiny. That’s life. That’s why this game is so great. Unfortunately, that’s a rough one to learn.”

Kickapoo coach Jason Howser wasn’t sure what the correct call was.

“I haven’t had a chance to talk to Cole yet, so I have no idea,” he said. “I thought, from where I was at, it was an inside pitch to a left-handed hitter. My thought was he check-swung. I thought he went. So he saw the ball get away and took off for first. Murrell was at third and we had been talking about anything that gets past, get in there. I know what (Ozark) said, and I’m not disagreeing with them. I have no idea. I just don’t know.”

The game’s ending added a flavor to what was an impressive pitcher’s duel between Kickapoo’s Mason Auer and Ozark’s Forrest Barnes. Auer struck out eight batters in 6.1 innings, allowing a run on four hits. He got help from his defense, which featured a diving catch by Trey Kelley in shallow right and a diving catch by Zac Salyers (see video below) on the warning track in left. Both catches prevented runs from scoring. Barnes matched Auer’s dominance and took a one-hitter into the seventh inning before Murrell ripped the game-tying triple.

“I was just looking for a pitch I could hit hard, something on a line,” Murrell said. “I happened to square it up and elevate it a little bit.”

Kickapoo will now face Glendale on Tuesday night at 5 p.m. with a Class 5 District 11 championship on the line.

“They’re a great team,” Howser said. “A very, very good defensive team. Their bats have come alive. We’ll try to regroup, get a little energy going, and see what we can get going in a one game playoff.”

Ozark 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 5 1
Kickapoo 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 2 1

WP – Kelley
LP – Barnes

Ozark: Mozley 2, Shaver, Barnes (2B), Hill
Kickapoo: Reid, Murrell (3B)

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