By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In the midst of their celebration on the field – and even after, in a team photo – Marionville baseball players held up three fingers Tuesday night after winning the Class 2 District 7 championship.
Three because the Comets, who knocked off top-seeded Crane 9-3 for the title at Joe Becker Stadium in Joplin, were seeded there in the district bracket.
“We’ve been thinking about that three seed a lot,” Marionville starter Cale Clark said. “We thought we should have had the one but it worked out that way and we ended up winning. Can’t ask for much more.”
Head coach Alex Weathermon noted it was a “very tough” district but said his team played with a chip on its shoulder.
“That’s what we took from that,” he said. “These boys really wanted to get something done. This is only the second time they’ve ever won a district championship at Marionville and the kids just found a way to win and I’m proud of them for it.”
A four-run third inning proved to be the difference for the Comets (19-6), but the game’s most critical moments came two innings later when Clark found himself battling his control in the bottom of the fifth.
First he hit a batter, then he walked another. Then a single got Crane on the scoreboard. Another single loaded the bases, and another hit batsman made it a 5-2 game. With no outs, the tying run was at first base.
Clark, who looked like he might be running out of gas, took a few strolls on the turf behind the mound and proceeded to strike out the side to end the inning and preserve Marionville’s three-run lead.
“I lost a little bit of velo in that inning and I lost a little bit of control but you step back, take a deep breath and I came back at them and got three in a row there with the bases loaded,” he said. “Worked out fine.”
“I want to give my athletes a chance to prove themselves and Cale did just that,” Weathermon said. “I was very proud of him. He’s just a competitor. He wants to go win and he’s going to find a way to.”
The Comets scored their four runs in the third inning all with two outs. The rally started when Jordan Williams, who was down 0-2, worked the count full and then singled to center. Duane Hammonds followed with a double to left field. Blane Young then found himself down 0-2 but eventually walked after seeing 10 pitches and fouling off five of them. That loaded the bases for Jacob Davis, who drew a five-pitch walk to force in the first run of the game.
Kyle Brattin reached on a throwing error by the pitcher that scored two more runs, and a fourth scored on a wild pitch with Jacksen Smith at the plate.
Crane starter Isaiah Smith had to throw 46 pitches in the inning and only pitched one more, throwing 100 pitches in the game.
“That four-run inning in the third was huge,” Clark said. “That was the biggest inning of the game I think. That’s what really led us to that win.”
“For the whole first half of the year we were putting way too much pressure on our shoulders to get things done with two strikes,” Weathermon said. “We had to make a few adjustments and swallow a little bit of pride midway through the season. Ever since then we’ve had much better at bats. Our offense is really starting to come around.”
Any momentum created by the Pirates with their two runs in the bottom of the fifth disappeared a few minutes later when Marionville matched them with two in the sixth to lead 7-2. A triple by Clark scored one and a single by Williams scored another.
Davis singled to shortstop in the seventh to make it 8-2 and another run scored on an error on a ground ball by Lake High.
Crane’s Isaac Robinson walked and scored in the bottom of the seventh on a single to center by Hayden Shepard. Zane Compton, who singled in between those at bats, was thrown out at third on the play. Wyley Brown then ended the game with a strikeout.
Williams went 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI for Marionville. Hammonds was 2-for-4 with two doubles, a run and an RBI. Davis scored twice and Smith drove in a pair.
Crane’s Shepard was 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Clark, in six innings, allowed four hits and two earned runs while striking out nine and walking one. Brown allowed two hits and one run in the seventh while striking out one and walking one.
Crane’s Smith struck out six and walked two in his four innings while allowing five hits and two earned runs. Chase Conrad pitched three innings in relief, allowing four hits, two earned runs and striking out and walking one.
“It just means the world to me,” Weathermon said. “I’m born and raised a Comet and I played on that team that won it before so getting to come back and coach and help these kids out in the community has just been an absolute blessing. I love each and every one of them. No matter what happens from here on out I’m extremely proud of what they’ve done.”
Marionville will face Marion C. Early on May 24 in the sectional round.