The Neosho Wildcats were within six outs of handing the Carthage Tigers their first loss of the season. They just couldn’t hang on long enough.
The Tigers sent eight batters to the plate in the sixth inning, scored three runs and then held on to maintain their perfect record with a 6-4 defeat of the Wildcats at Carl Lewton Stadium.
Carthage improves to 11-0 with the win, and Neosho falls to 10-3 with the loss. But for a good portion of the afternoon it looked as if the Wildcats would be the first to reach 11 wins, and the Tigers helped them out.
Trailing 1-0 after an inning, Neosho senior Kyler Finley drew a one-out walk in the top of the second, then sophomore Logan Stuart singled past second base to put two runners on. Sophomore Chris Paullus followed and hit a groundball to second base that was mishandled by a Carthage defender, putting Paullus on with an error to load the bases for senior Nathan Bankson.
Bankson hit another groundball on the infield, but the ball got past another Carthage defender and then past a Carthage outfielder. Bankson ended up at third base on the play and Neosho scored three runs.
Junior Trey Turner followed with a groundout to give Neosho a 4-1 lead.
“We didn’t play very well in one inning and we gave them an opportunity,” Carthage head coach Mike Godfrey said. “It didn’t look good for awhile. Our defense has been making those plays and so it was surprising to see.”
After going hitless for the second, third and fourth innings, Carthage’s offense finally showed some life in the bottom of the fifth.
Senior Keaton Giett led off with a walk, then junior Gabe Franklin walked to put two on for senior Drew Bridges. Bridges lined a single to right field to score two and pull Carthage within 4-3. The next batter, senior Johnny Mills, drew a walk to put two runners on base for senior Dalton Stafford.
That’s when Neosho pulled Turner, the starting pitcher, and called on senior Lane Brodie. Brodie forced Stafford to pop out, then Bridges was caught stealing at third and senior Jordan Musser flied out to right field.
The big inning for Carthage was the sixth.
Senior Johnathan Terry singled on the infield to lead off, and was replaced by pinch runner Alex Kennedy, a sophomore. Kennedy moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior Miles Goade, then to third when senior Seth Beckner reached on a bunt single.
Beckner stole second to put two runners in scoring position for Giett, who drew a walk to load the bases for Franklin.
Page 2 of 2 - Neosho then replaced Brodie with sophomore Alec Gorham. Franklin hit a pitch deep enough to center field to score Kennedy tagging from third to tie the game at 4, then Bridges was walked intentionally to load the bases for Mills. Mills hit a line drive single to left, scoring two and making the score 6-4.
That was enough for Carthage and Musser, who pitched all seven innings and allowed two hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. Stuart had both of Neosho’s hits in going 2 for 3 and scored a run. Bankson had two RBIs.
“We played well enough to win,” Wildcats coach Donny Pennington said, “we just got out-pitched tonight. Musser was better than we were on the mound. When you give up nine walks it’s tough to beat a state-ranked team like Carthage. The kids played hard and we put up runs and had it won, but we just couldn’t (close it out).”
Musser struck out the first batter he faced in the seventh, then forced two groundouts to end it. He finished with four hits allowed, two walks and eight strikeouts.
“Musser threw the heck out of the ball,” Godfrey said. “I don’t know if he gave up an earned run. He really did a great job pitching and got big outs all game for us.”
Carthage took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Bridges, for the second game in a row, hit a home run with the first pitch he saw. Unlike Tuesday’s homer at Nixa, though, his hit on Thursday stayed in the ballpark. It would have cleared the fences at any major league stadium, however, as it grazed the wall in centerfield just to the right of the 444 feet sign. He made it home easily for the inside-the-park homer, his sixth home run of the year.
“When they could have gotten down, they didn’t and they played with confidence,” Godfrey said of the Tigers. “Neosho’s over there cheering and being loud, celebrating and having fun. It could have affected us but our guys kept a nice level head, waited for an opportunity and did a great job competing again.
“Neosho came in excited and they threw the ball real well,” he said. “They played defense, made the plays. They’re a quality team.”