By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For six solid innings McDonald County appeared on its way to a third district championship in four seasons.
The top-seeded Mustangs led 2-0 against Webb City – the team that beat them in last year’s district finals – and had yielded just one hit to the Cardinals.
But third seed Webb City had other plans. Kaylyn Gilbert led off the seventh with a triple into the left field corner, sparking a three-run outburst from the Cardinals to clinch the Class 4 District 6 championship 3-2 on Friday evening in Neosho.
“These girls just don’t give up and it really reflects on their character as players and just as people,” Webb City coach Shauna Friend said. “It couldn’t have happened to a better group. I’m just so proud of them.”
Friend said Gilbert is one of the most determined players on the team.
“When she sets her mind to something she’s going to do it,” she said. “I had no doubt she was going to get something going.”
She scored two batters later when Emalee Lamar reached base on a short pop up on the infield that the Mustangs couldn’t corral. With Lamar standing on second with one out, Lauren Hicks lined a pitch to center field, but McDonald County’s Katelynn Townsend made a diving catch.
That left the tying run at second with the Cardinals down to their final out. Ripley Shanks then drew a walk, and Friend turned to sophomore Dawsyn Decker to pinch hit. She responded by looping a single past third base to load the bases for Peyton Hawkins, who hit a sharp grounder the shortstop couldn’t handle.
It proved to be the game winner, scoring pinch runner Rylyn McFarland and Shanks.
“We used everything we had to get it done,” Friend said. “We had Dawsyn Decker come in there as a sophomore as a pinch hitter. That’s an extremely tough position to come into, especially in a pressure situation like this. She just went up there with confidence and got the job done. We also put a freshman in there to run because I knew we needed to score on a base hit. Everybody just doing their part. We’ve always talked about this being a team effort and believing in each other and that’s what they came up and did tonight.”
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Mustangs, who finish with a 24-7 record and defeated Webb City 15-0 less than two weeks ago.
They opened the scoring in the bottom of the second when Jacie Frencken led off with a home run over the left field fence. They added some insurance in the fifth when Nevaeh Dodson singled off the wall in center to score Zoe Parish, who reached on a walk.
There were some other scoring opportunities for McDonald County. Carlee Cooper doubled to deep center with one out in the first and advanced to third on a passed ball. But Webb City right fielder Hannah Wells caught a fly ball and fired a throw home to catch Cooper in a rundown and end the inning.
The Mustangs had a runner at second with two outs in the third but Wells again came up big, this time with a diving catch to end the inning.
And after Dodson singled in a run in the fifth, Cooper followed with a flyout to the warning track.
Starting pitcher Madeline McCall was clutch, too, for the Mustangs. She struck out 11 and only allowed three baserunners in the first four innings, all on walks. She didn’t allow a base hit until the fifth, when Hicks singled to the outfield. Then she retired the next five batters she faced.
“Webb City kept fighting all the way through seven innings,” McDonald County coach Heath Alumbaugh said. “We’ve got to find a way to finish a game right there. Two outs, still with a two-run lead. We’ve gotta finish one.”
“The game is seven innings for a reason,” he said.
Webb City’s Laney Taylor allowed just four hits in her seven innings while striking out four.
The Cardinals improved to 17-12 with the win and move on to face 29-8 Rolla in the quarterfinal round on Oct. 21. Friday’s win gives the team three district titles in a row and last year they advanced all the way to the Class 4 championship game before falling by a run to Webster Groves.
Webb City faced a more difficult path to the playoffs this year. The team had two three-game losing streaks and went 4-7 during one stretch.
“I’m not sure when the last time a three seed has won,” Friend said. “We knew that going in. We were in a little bit of a funk midseason and lost some games. That put us in the three seed but it didn’t stop us from believing we could win this championship.”