CARTHAGE — If nothing else, the Class 5, District 12 tournament demonstrated the unpredictable nature of postseason play in sports.
That and the importance of pitching and defense in winning baseball games.
Carthage’s Ian O’Malley pitched a sensational two-hitter Monday night and the Tigers played cleaner baseball than the Neosho Wildcats in a 2-0 Carthage win at historic Carl Lewton Stadium.
In their first two district games, against McDonald County and Neosho, three Carthage pitchers combined on 12 scoreless innings and surrendered a meager four hits.
In the early game Monday, Joplin dispatched top seed and three-time defending district champion Webb City 6-2, as the Cardinals decided to hold their ace Tyler Martin for the championship game and then used him anyway late against Joplin, after it was too little, too late.
No. 4 seed Joplin and No. 6 Carthage sent home the top three seeds, with the Tigers responsible for slaying No. 2 Neosho and No. 3 McDonald County.
On a night when the Wildcats’ defense turned a pair of double plays, a 5-3-6 one to end the first inning and then a 6-4-3 one in the sixth, neither one could spark the Neosho offense against O’Malley, who surrendered a Clint Winchester single in the first and a Brett Cook single in the fifth.
O’Malley walked one batter (A.C. Marion), hit another (Winchester), and the Tigers committed one error behind him. Meanwhile, O’Malley took advantage of a Neosho squad not known for working pitchers by striking out nine. O’Malley retired Neosho in order in the second, the third, the sixth, and the seventh en route to 100 pitches exactly.
Offensively, Carthage scratched two runs in the third against Neosho starter Jared Stephens, who took another tough loss in a season filled with pitchers’ duels. The third started with a Neosho error and the Tigers were able to piece together a pair of run-scoring hits that avoided Neosho all night.
Stephens allowed two runs (one earned) on eight hits over seven innings and he struck out six and walked none.
“We knew the O’Malley kid was going to be tough,” Neosho head coach Danny Powers said. “We hadn’t seen him before. We’ve seen Vogt a couple times throughout the year. We were lucky the first time (10-4 win on April 19), Vogt didn’t really have his stuff, and we jumped on him early. O’Malley came out and pumped strikes all day, and kept us off-balance.
“We made an error to lead off an inning (third), they had a couple infield hits and got a big hit to get a couple runs across. They didn’t make many mistakes on defense, if any, and that’s how the game went.”
Neosho seniors Winchester, Kaleb Moreland, Hank Selig, Gavin Kelley, and Gavin Carpenter finished up their high school careers.
“It’s tough because I’ve been with those guys all three years,” Powers said. “A lot of them have played varsity for three years. They’ve done a good job of representing our program with class, they’ve made good grades, a lot of them are on the Academic All-State, and they represented our program well and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The Wildcats should return several varsity contributors next season, including Stephens, who has two years of season facing the best pitchers in the Central Ozark Conference on a regular basis during conference play.
“We have a good sophomore class I feel like,” Powers said. “I think they’re going to step in nicely and fill some of those roles. Having Jared back, with a good arm on the mound, is encouraging. We have a lot of those guys playing with us this summer, nearly everybody’s playing, and hopefully we can get everybody working hard to be in a position again playing in a district semifinal and hopefully for a district title.”
Neosho finished its season 11-14 overall and the Wildcats went 2-6 over their final eight games after conference wins against first Branson (6-4) and then Carthage (10-4) in mid-April.
Monday’s start was delayed to 7:50 p.m. by consecutive 30-minute lightning delays.
Class 5, District 12 Tournament
at Carl Lewton Stadium, Carthage
CARTHAGE 2, NEOSHO 0
Carthage 002 000 0 — 2 8 1
Neosho 000 000 0 — 0 2 3
Ian O’Malley and Cade Patrick. Jared Stephens and Kaden Endicott. WP: O’Malley. LP: Stephens. 2B: Patrick. SH: Trason Vogt, Bryce Pugh. CS: Bret Camerer, A.C. Marion. HBP: Clint Winchester. LOB: Carthage 6, Neosho 3.