A rough stretch in the sixth inning was too much for the Neosho Wildcats to overcome on Tuesday as Willard came from behind to top them 6-2 in a Central Ozark Conference Large Division bout at Roy Shaver Stadium.
The Wildcats (11-4, 1-2 COC) held a 2-1 advantage with six outs to go in the game, but things quickly unraveled in the sixth. Michael Pfeifer reached on an error to open the Tigers’ inning and successive singles by Luke Latham and Justin Atchison followed to load the bases with no outs.
Willard’s Kyle Smith was plunked in the helmet by the next pitch to bring Pfeifer home with the tying run. After an out Blake Hobbs was hit by a pitch to bring Atchison home with the go-ahead run to make it 3-2.
That finished Wildcats’ starter Kyler Finley, but Seth Sherertz followed with a single off reliever Lane Brodie to right to score Smith and Patrick Latham to make it 5-2. Keaton Presley flipped another single to right to score Hobbs before Brodie escaped the inning.
The Wildcats managed to push one across on a bases-loaded balk with two outs in the seventh, but Neosho would strand runners at second and third.
The ending was a sour note to an otherwise well orchestrated game by the Wildcats through the first five innings.
“If you don’t make plays and you don’t get it done that’s what’s going to happen in the COC,” Wildcats coach Donny Pennington said. “We played pretty well. We played, possibly, six innings of good baseball. But I felt like today we went through the motions and didn’t do a good job preparing ourselves, and I’ll take fault for that and we’ll come out ready to go next time.”
The Tigers drew first blood with a run in the top of the first, but Finley buckled down and kept them scoreless over the next four innings.
The Wildcats tied the game with two outs in the third. Brendan Craig got things started with a single to center and Tyler Johnson followed with another single to put runners at first and second. The inning should have been over when Jayce Parmley rolled a sharp grounder to short, but the shortstop couldn’t handle it and everyone was safe.
Kody Kelly made the Tigers pay for the miscue when he singled to drive in Craig, making it 1-1. Neosho took the lead in the next inning when Andy Lett reached on a hit-by-pitch and scored on Logan Stuart’s double down the left field line to make it 2-1.
Finley’s first five innings were sharp as the big righthander kept the Tiger bats at bay. In the end, however, he was charged with the loss after scattering seven hits and allowing six runs with two strikeouts.
Page 2 of 2 - Craig led the team at the plate with two hits and a run scored. Stuart had one hit, the double, with an RBI and a run scored. Johnson, Parmley and Kelly each had a hit in the contest. Parmley’s hit was a double, while Johnson scored a run and Kelly drove in one.
After a long road stretch to open the season, the Wildcats will stay at home this week as they get set to host Ozark in another COC bout on Thursday at 4:30 p.m.