CARTHAGE — The Neosho Lady Wildcats knew they were going to be at their very best level Saturday afternoon in the Class 4, District 12 final against top seed Webb City.

Neosho started out strong with two runs in the top of the first, but the Lady Cardinals scored nine unanswered runs en route to a 9-4 win at the Fair Acres Sports Complex.

The Lady Wildcats surrendered five unearned runs and chased balls out of the zone at the plate, but pinch hitter Breanna Slavens bashed a two-run home run in the sixth for a new spark of life and the Lady Wildcats attempted one final rally in the seventh before coming short.

Webb City ended Neosho’s magical run that included two 11-1 wins over Joplin and Republic.

“I was really pleased that we were in this game,” Neosho head coach Catie Cummins said. “Nobody expected us to be here. Nobody expected us to beat Republic. We knew that we would have to play the best game all year because they’re that good. They have that many bats up and down the lineup and even the kids they bring in off the bench are good hitters.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t play our best game that we’ve played all year and that’s OK. We had too many errors in the outfield, which is something that’s typical for us. That’s frustrating, but even without those errors, we have to make adjustments sooner at the plate. We were chasing a lot of pitches that weren’t in our zone and I think we were pressing a little bit.”

Webb City improved to 24-5-1 and will play District 11 champion Ozark in the sectional round. The Lady Cardinals won their first district title since 2013.

Neosho finished play 13-16 in Cummins’ first season as head coach. The Lady Wildcats have the opportunity to build on their late success and use Saturday’s loss for motivation.

“Last year, we went 1-1 in districts and that was a completely different team,” Cummins said. “A completely different infield, pitching staff, everything. Going 2-1 and losing to a really good team, I think Webb City has a good chance of going pretty far in the postseason, and so to lose to them it sucks, but we have to use this feeling we have now in the offseason.

“I told them we don’t need to go out and hit 700 balls tomorrow, they need to take a couple weeks off and then go find that fire to drive them to be better. We’ve got to learn to get better in the offseason and that’s something that we haven’t necessarily done. I think they know that they have the ability to have that success and that will help us.”

Webb City — with its lineup of nine seniors — had been in Neosho’s position in the last couple seasons and that’s something Neosho should keep in mind in future seasons.

“Republic was definitely the team to beat last year,” Cummins said. “This year, it was Webb City. Maybe that will be us next year. I’m not saying that, but if we do all the right things, we could be in that spot next year.”

The Lady Wildcats, for example, started all sophomores on the infield Saturday — first baseman Kayla Bach, second baseman Megan Geller, third baseman Mikayla Long, and shortstop Kaitlyn Hawkins. Plus, sophomore Kyla Daspit started at pitcher and the lone juniors out there were catcher Taylor Baker and right fielder Amber Shepeard.

Then, on the other extreme, Cummins talked about each of her four seniors — Kaylee Johnson, Tori Frazier, Olivia Rowe, and Angelica Fallatt — because saying bye to your seniors is the hardest part of any season in every sport.

“Tori Frazier, our center fielder, has just been one of the most level-headed kids that I’ve been around,” Cummins said. “I’m young in experience and years, but she just gets it. She gets it and we’re going to miss her a lot with her leadership. She’s not the most vocal person, but she’s always doing the right thing and encouraging her teammates. She can go catch any fly ball hit at her and that’s real important, and she’s solid in the leadoff.

“Kaylee Johnson, in left field, she’s a character. I enjoy being around her. Even when things aren’t going her way, she’s always smiling and having a good time. That carries over to her teammates. That’s important to have, because she stays within herself even though she’s an emotional player. I enjoy her so much. We’re going to miss her.

“Off the bench, I had Olivia Rowe, who is a first-year player for us and who moved in over the summer. In some key games, she came in and had some big hits in tournaments. She could always come in defensively and do her job.

“Angelica Fallatt has been a manager and different things four years. She’s a hard worker, comes to practice every day with a good attitude knowing that she’s not going to play varsity and she knew that at the beginning of the year, but her attitude is great. She helped every one and she’s always telling the underclassmen … she’s kind of like Team Mom, keeping kids in line and she knows the expectation and follows it.”

In the game Saturday, Neosho committed three errors and Daspit took the loss, allowing nine runs (four earned) on 12 hits over six innings. She struck out three and walked four.

Long and Slavens each delivered two-run home runs.

Addie Darby earned the win for Webb City, allowing four runs (all earned) on six hits over six innings. She struck out 12 and walked two. Amy Morris — formerly in the Neosho School District — surrendered a pair of hits in the seventh but composed herself for the save as the Lady Cardinals’ left side of the infield grabbed a pair of Neosho liners to end the game.

Mareika Turpen homered and worked three walks for Webb City. Alex Vanzant led the Lady Cardinals with a pair of RBI. Mariah Newby, Darby, and Ashley Alexander each had two hits.