CARL JUNCTION -- Devoid of rain or thunder, a storm front blew over the baseball field here on Tuesday night, where district champions Monett Cubs and the host Carl Junction Bulldogs were playing in the first round of the sectional playoffs.
Carl Junction won decisively, 7-3. The Bulldogs now advance to the Class 3 state quarterfinals against Logan-Rogersville on Thursday.
|Like the hollow weather front, the Cubs lacked the offensive lightening that otherwise propelled the team's success this year. Unable to drop hits or to cycle base runners home, Monett's prestigious appearance in the sectionals was a game of attrition.||A timely hit could have pressured Carl Junction and changed the tenor of the game. It was especially true the very inning that Bulldog Garrett Carden's home run produced three scores for a 5-1 Carl Junction lead.|
Attempting to save ace pitcher Jake Stevenson for the quarterfinals, Carl Junction threw sophomore lefty Payton Walker against Monett, but his inability to throw strikes in the third frame drove him off the mound, as two walks helped load the bases for the Cubs with just one out.
With the season at risk, Stevenson quickly replaced Walker and retired the side, but not before sustained wind blew good fortune for the home team. Cub Colten Phillips' line drive was barely within the reach of his shortstop counterpart, Bulldog Jeff Terry. Had the hit been an inch or two higher, Monett would have taken the lead and gained elusive momentum.
It was not to be, as Carl Junction never relinquished control.
That Monett pitcher Marcus McCaffrey gave up 11 hits didn't help the cause, but the team's successful 16-7 season wasn't built on pitching duels. McCaffrey's style is to punish batters with fastball relentlessness and like the rest of the Cub hurlers, he needed the backing of outstanding field play to keep the team in the game long enough for its offense to ignite.
Similar to the loss at Republic earlier in the month, the Cub bats didn't go to work until the final inning. Yet on a paltry three hits to that point, Monett stayed in the game.
The fourth-inning double by Doug Aldridge was the only scoring thrust of the night, producing a pair of runs that narrowed the lead to 5-3.
The cadre of Cub pitchers didn't give Coach Michael Calhoun a lot of options, so staying with McCaffrey had little effect on the outcome.
Another season in the books, capped by brief disappointment at Carl Junction. It is the district title, however, that is memorable.
A review of the roster and
a peak at the future
Another underclassman pitcher, lefty Jesse Bremer, brings off-speed finesse. Like McCaffrey, Bremer's experience this year and steady growth will pose problems for the opposition next season.
Spenser Witt was enlisted as a makeshift pitcher. His able performance on the mound this season was a testimony to his competitive heart and vast athletic capacity. The clinic he put on in centerfield Tuesday night made it look easy - but that's just Witt.
The gusty wind tricks on fly balls turned him into an artist, including a sidesaddle snare that was one to behold. Only Witt could make catching a difficult ball look like a kid toying with a kite out on the lawn. Dignity and talent in one package, the senior leaves a legacy of brilliant play and several signatures on the baseball record books at Monett High.
Left fielder Doug Aldridge was also busy in the outfield Tuesday night and along with Bremer and Andy Hagedorn, is capable of making vast-expanse defense shine when called upon. Aldridge's propensity for extra-base hits during the team's offensive lull provides a magical spark.
Hagedorn will become a high school baseball star in whatever assignment he's given. Whether he threw strikes or went wild this season, his pitching overwhelmed the opposition.
More experience will shape him into a fearsome fireballer. Interestingly, whenever the wild stuff relegated him back to service in the outfield, he came back with a vengeance in the form of a devastating hitter, punishing opponents with his bat, hustle and a natural spirit for sport.
Another example of rapid development is found in freshman second baseman Nicky Roberts. Credit Coach Michael Calhoun and his sharp eye for grooming talent. It's not happenstance that a decade into his tenure as the varsity skipper, Monett's baseball program has matured and is so noted by the baseball community in southwestern Missouri.
Despite lacking the vital component of a single dominating pitcher, Calhoun's team was a hit or two way from the state semifinals.
Already a pair of infield veterans as juniors, shortstop Colten Phillips and third baseman Marcus Enloe are impenetrable at their best and an entertaining athletic duo when the game gets chaotic. Watch what happens when a summer's physical growth creates a pair of unlikely bad boys kicking up the dirt.
"If you would have told me before the season that I'd hit four home runs and drive in 30 runs, I wouldn't have believed you," said Enloe yesterday.
Finally, there's All-Conference catcher Jake Smith. He's clutch at 17, so reliable that opposing coaches hold their breath when he ambles to the plate with his massive hitting skill. Patient in the first degree, Smith is a coil of power and instinct. That's but one side of the coin. It takes an innate athletic will to become a solid catcher in only a year. One of the toughest positions to play in all of sports, Smith's performance makes him the backstop of the team on defense and a Swiss watch with the bat in his hand. On duty, on time.
With pitcher Carlin Balley and utilityman Chris Trout ready to emerge as everyday varsity players, this season's swing at the sectionals is only a preview of things to come for Monett Cub baseball.