CARL JUNCTION — Neosho both started and finished right Wednesday night against Carl Junction.
Kaleb Moreland and Cole Seward led off the top of the first with consecutive doubles.
In the bottom of the seventh, Neosho’s Hank Selig and Kaden King turned a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Overall, the Wildcats slugged 12 hits and scored runs in five of the seven innings, Jared Stephens gave the Wildcats a quality start, and the Wildcats overcome one bad inning to earn a 8-5 win over their Central Ozark Conference Large rival.
Neosho ended a five-game losing streak to improve to 10-13 overall and finish 3-5 COC Large, heading into their season finale Thursday at home against Newton County rival East Newton.
“I was a little nervous,” Neosho head coach Danny Powers said of the game’s final play. “Thought it was going to scoot up the middle there, but once Hank gloved it, I knew it was hit pretty hard and up the middle. … Our kids give me a hard time because we work on double plays probably more than about anything. We’ve turned quite a few this year and it turned up in a perfect situation tonight.”
The Wildcats gave one of their most consistent offensive efforts of the season, scoring two runs in the first, one in the second and third, two in the fourth, and two in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Carl Junction managed one big inning with five in the fifth and the Bulldogs benefited from four Neosho errors as the Wildcats seemed all of a sudden hexed like Roger Dorn in “Major League.” Carl Junction loaded the bases in the seventh, setting the stage for the double play.
“Lead off the game with two doubles and kinda rolled from there,” Powers said. “Scored the first four innings. A little uncharacteristic and kicked the ball around and not throwing the ball where we were supposed to in that fifth inning. That probably cost Jared another 20 pitches and he pitched well enough to throw a complete game. When your defense has a letdown like that, it puts a strain on your pitcher, but we responded with two big runs after that and got that big double play at the end so nobody put their heads down and gave up. We continued to battle after letting them get back in.”
Stephens allowed five runs (none earned) on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings and he struck out eight and walked two. He finished with 104 pitches and 72 strikes, pitching into the seventh. As Powers said, it seemed like Stephens was on his way to a complete game shutout before the wheels fell off a bit in the fifth. Stephens and the Wildcats regrouped both offensively and defensively in the sixth.
“He throws two or three pitches for strikes,” Powers said. “His fastball, guys can get on it so it’s important that he can throw his breaking ball for strikes. First four innings, it was mainly fastball and curveball. He came back in the sixth and worked his changeup quite a bit more. That was a big inning for us, to go 1-2-3. It’s his first win of the season. He’s had some tough ones. He’s lost 3-2, 2-1, 4-1, so it was good for him to throw well and be rewarded with a win.”
Offensively, Seward provided a major spark with three hits, four runs scored, a double, three stolen bases, and two RBI. Maybe he should always wear uniform No. 32. On the mound, he overcame a hit batter to earn the save. Selig and King proved that middle infielders stick together.
Clint Winchester added two hits (both doubles), while Moreland, Gavin Kelley, Brett Cook, Tre Letts, A.C. Marion, Stephens, and Selig all joined the hits column. Winchester, Kelley, Cook, and Selig each picked up RBI and Moreland, Winchester, Letts, and pinch runner Gavin Carpenter each crossed home plate for the Wildcats.
Seward continues to make impact
In his first year as a Neosho Wildcat, Diamond transfer Cole Seward has definitely shown a flair for the dramatic both on the basketball court and on the baseball diamond.
In basketball, Seward hit a pair of game-winning shots for two of Neosho’s six wins all season — a 17-foot fadeaway jumper against Memphis Sheffield in the Neosho Holiday Classic and then on Neosho Senior Night, Seward drove the length of the court and made the winning layup against conference foe Willard.
During baseball season, Seward has proven a steady spark for the Wildcats.
Seward definitely enjoyed one of his best games of the season Wednesday against Carl Junction and the Wildcats needed a big win to get momentum headed in a positive direction toward Monday’s Class 5, District 12 semifinal contest.
“He’s one of our best competitors,” Powers said. “He’s a vocal leader. We’ve been lucky to have him this year. Moved in from Diamond, played for us this summer, and he meshed well. Weren’t sure who we were going to put in there in the bottom of the seventh, if we were going to go Moreland or Seward. Moreland’s coming off some arm injuries and I wanted to start him (against East Newton), and Seward’s used to being in those situations, so he made me nervous when he hit the kid (to load the bases), but he got the ground ball we needed and our defense made a good play to get out of it.”
Seward’s efforts both at the plate and on the mound helped the Wildcats end a five-game skid.
“You’ve got to step in there like it’s another game,” Seward told Josh King of NeoshoWildcatSports.com after the game. “You’ve got to bear down, throw strikes, and trust your defense.
“I’ve been struggling the last couple games (offensively). Stayed after practice (Tuesday) and hit and tried to focus on putting the ball back into play. It’s high school baseball and you’ve got a good chance (to get on base).
“We’re trying to get on a good roll here before districts. We got a good shot at picking up this win and then (Thursday) against East Newton.”