By Scott Vanscoy (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Hurley, MO – The Billings Wildcats won their second straight Class 1 District 7 title when they took home the trophy on Tuesday night in a comeback that will be long remembered by the Wildcat faithful. Billings was led by junior Brayden Garbee who pitched eight strong innings and hit the walk-off homerun to win the game. Garbee’s homerun was a no-doubter to deep left field.
“That homerun felt good off the bat,” said Garbee. “That’s two District titles in a row and it feels really good.”
The game started off slowly, as Exeter’s sophomore JJ Felipe held the Wildcat hitters to just a solo homerun by Quentin Gold. Felipe threw six strong innings for the Tigers, striking out seven and giving up just the one run. The Tigers, on the other hand, were being held down by Garbee who gave up seven hits and three runs in the first three innings. After the fourth inning he didn’t give up a hit and struck out six in the last four frames.
“I started off decent in the first few innings,” said Garbee. “Towards the middle of the game I started giving up a few more hits and it started to get rough. Towards the end of the game I got stronger and finished it out strong. I think that last batter, I was right at my pitch count. My curveball was working really well tonight in two counts and one-two counts.”
In the seventh inning and with a two run lead the Tigers brought in freshman Wyatt Lemons to finish the game. Billings jumped on Lemons with a single and a walk. Then with two outs Gold hit a two-run double, tying the game and forcing extra innings.
“Yesterday I was mad at myself because I’ve been struggling a little bit,” said Gold. “I told myself I was going to go back to the basics, work early and hit the ball hard, and that’s what I did. I attacked and I was swinging hard.”
Exeter did not score in the top of the eighth, stranding a runner on first base. This set the stage for Garbee’s homerun in the bottom of the inning to bring home the victory for the Wildcats.
The future is bright at Exeter, who started five freshmen and three sophomores. Even though they came up short tonight, head coach Matt Tripp is very optimistic for the future.
“It’s tough when you’ve got your ace out there and he runs out of pitches but that’s the world we live in today,” said Tripp. “We put in consistent hard work and when you work hard day in and day out it comes out when you play the game. We have a lot of freshmen and a lot of sophomores with some excellent incoming freshmen next year. The future looks very good. A team like Billings is good, they’re deep and they hit well so any mistake and you’re going to pay for it. After the game I told them I was really proud of them. They worked really hard.”
Going into tonight’s game Billings knew that Exeter would come to play and it would not be a cake walk for them.
“We knew it was going to be good, we knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Billings coach John Craig. “We hadn’t got to see their pitcher all year but we knew that he was good, that he was going to be in the zone and he would challenge us. We also knew that we had to battle, see pitches, and get his pitch count up. It was our goal to get to their bullpen and that’s what we did. Tonight we didn’t quit. We overcame some blunders early but then we made plays late in the game. We stayed together as a team. Our pitcher, Brayden, was awesome all night long. He kept battling and kept us in it. I think it was our “never give up” attitude, that was what we did best. Just win and advance.”
Exeter 3, Billings 4
Exeter 001 200 00 — 0
Billings 010 000 21 — 4