CARTHAGE - "It felt like an uphill battle the whole time," admitted Webb City baseball Coach Shawn Mayes on Friday, after it took his Cardinals six innings to manufacture the runs to overcome the relentless Monett Cubs, 5-2.
The game was a defensive tussle, indicative of the quality play both teams brought to the championship of the 36th Bill O'Dell tournament. Like slow roasting meat inside the Ozark's omnipresent smokers, the duel was tasty baseball for parents and purists alike.
In his first varsity start as pitcher, Cubs' all-state candidate Spenser Witt demonstrated for five innings a versatile capacity for competition at the highest level. The deft outfielder brought his lefty arm to the mound and gave up but two runs on three hits.
|Walks in the fourth and five innings put Webb City in position for go-ahead scores, but considering that Witt was facing a team that had flattened its two previous tournament opponents with 18 runs, this was nothing short of an extraordinary debut by the senior.||The Cubs' fielding was also up to the challenge from an excellent Cardinal team. Though the Cardinals launched a base runner in inning one, the subsequent foiled steal attempt was the Cubs' calling card that they belonged in such a finale. Third-baseman Marcus Enloe set the tone right off the bat, knocking down Webb City's first contact, in the form of a line-drive, then got a handle and drilled the out.|
That's only half the equation of a title game staged on a pleasant evening under the lights at Carl Lewton Stadium.
Webb City fields a staunch defense of its own, with a roster of formidable pitchers. After the Cards dispatched Nevada 10-0 to begin the tourney, junior Tyler Burgess fanned 15 Carl Junction batters on the way to an 8-0 no-hitter in the semifinals.
The abrupt success Monett found in the tourney had now earned the test of superior competition in the title game.
After Webb City scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the fourth, Andy Hagedorn led-off the fifth with a hit and then tied the score on Colten Phillips' sacrifice fly.
Webb City immediately echoed Monett's answer with another run of their own, by way of a walk, a steal, a passed ball and a hit. 2-1, Webb City.
Both teams changed pitchers in the sixth inning.
The prompt came with Doug Aldridge's rip down the left field line for a Cubs' triple. Spenser Witt then occupied the Cards' infield with a grounder, allowing Aldridge to knot the game at 2-2. When successive batters Chris Trout and Enloe got aboard and into scoring position, the Cardinals replaced starter Zack Calton with flamethrower Patrick Drake.
Drake's 90-mph fastballs mowed down every Cub faced, including two to end the inning.
To start the bottom of the sixth, Monett coach Michael Calhoun countered with Andy Hagedorn in relief of Witt. Coming on against a top-flight team like Webb City would be daunting for a seasoned pitcher. For the junior in his second major varsity appearance, it proved to be overwhelming, as nine Cardinal batters feasted on three hits, two wild pitches, a balk, and a fielding error.
Suddenly, Webb City was in control at 5-2 and Monett was down to the last inning.
"Spenser had thrown a lot of pitches and we didn't want to use up more of his arm. Plus, we wanted to see what Andy could do," said Calhoun.
Shortstop-turned-reliever Drake dispatched the final three Cubs' batters and Webb City had escaped a scare from upstart Monett.
"They came prepared," said Cardinals Coach Mayes, whose team is now 7-2 after beating Carl Junction again over the weekend.
"We didn't swing it very well early; Witt kept us off-balance."
"We came up a little short," said Monett Coach Michael Calhoun. "But the tournament was a confidence builder."
The game was a hitting breakout for Cubs' outfielder Doug Aldridge, whose powerful hopper down the left field line began the rally in the sixth. His newfound strength has a reason.
"My approach wasn't working," he explained. "In the beginning [of the season], I thought I could attack the ball, but I wasn't making contact. My time in the (batting) cage worked for me tonight."
The Cubs are now 3-3 and host Mt. Vernon on Tuesday afternoon.