In a game where four pitchers combined to allow eight hits, of course it was going to come down to the fundamental plays and little things Tuesday when the Neosho Wildcats hosted current district and future conference rival Joplin at Roy B. Shaver Stadium.
Arguably both Joplin’s Casey Sade and Neosho’s Jared Stephens pitched well enough to win, but only Sade came out the winning pitcher because the Eagles capitalized on five Neosho errors and found ways to push across four runs en route to a 4-1 win.
Neosho dropped to 1-2 on the season and the Wildcats played their first of four games this week, weather permitting, all at home with McDonald County on Thursday and Stockton and Olathe Northwest on Saturday completing the busy week.
“Joplin’s defense was impressive,” Neosho head coach Danny Powers said. “I tell you, they went beyond fundamental plays. That shortstop made a couple great plays in the hole and their second baseman made a great play in the hole. We hit some balls hard early, but with the way the wind’s been blowing in today, nothing’s going to carry out and unfortunately, we hit balls hard in the air at times and sometimes not in the air. They made every routine play and we let their pitcher settle down and get into a nice rhythm. He mixed his pitches up well and kept us off balance.”
Sade earned the win, allowing one run (earned) on three hits over 6 1/3 innings and he struck out four and walked two. The Eagles, most importantly, committed no errors.
Stephens allowed four runs (one earned) on five hits over 6 2/3 frames and he struck out nine and walked one. Not only did Neosho commit five errors, but the Eagles stole seven bases, including five by leadoff man Jake Yarnell, who scored half of Joplin’s runs.
“I thought Jared pitched a heckuva game,” Powers said, “but little things matter in tight ballgames. Joplin made less mistakes and came out with the win. Part of that’s our communication. It’s still not great. We’re kinduva quiet team, to the exception, Cole Seward plays with a lot of emotion, a lot of fire, hopefully everybody else feeds off that a little bit. A.C.’s (A.C. Marion) doing a great job behind the plate, he’s just new to the position. They were delay stealing on him some of the time and we weren’t talking to let him know. They did a great job of taking about every extra base they could and we just didn’t have any baserunners. We just couldn’t do anything all day.”
Joplin struck for a 3-0 lead in the top of the second and the Wildcats committed two errors, then Blake Dean hit a two-run double after the Eagles scored their first run on the second error.
With one down in the Neosho sixth, the Wildcats put together their only scoring rally, beginning with a Mason Ray single to center. Clint Winchester then was hit by pitch and Ray later scored on a Seward single. In a play that epitomized the frustrating day for the Wildcats, Brett Cook roped one down the right field line … if the ball dropped, it’s a tie game and Cook’s likely at second base with a double … however, right fielder Logan Irvin made the running catch and the score stayed 3-1 Joplin.
In the Joplin seventh, leadoff man Yarnell delivered an insurance run, drawing a leadoff walk from Stephens and then working his way around the bases on a pair of steals and scoring on a Grant Jones sacrifice fly. Ray came on to pick up the final out.
In the Neosho seventh, the Wildcats only managed one runner and Joplin reliever Luke Kuehnel earned the final two outs.
Kaleb Moreland had Neosho’s lone extra base hit Tuesday, a double in the first inning. However, Seward lined out to second and the Eagles doubled up Moreland, nullifying any potential rally.
The first full week of play brings two district rivals.
“That’s the thing we were trying to tell ‘em,” Powers said. “I’m not sure where Joplin was in the rotation, but I’m sure we’ll see McDonald County’s No. 1. We’ll probably come back with Kaleb (Moreland), who threw pretty well for us in the first game against Lebanon, where again we made some mental mistakes that came back and got us late.”
Neosho played a pair of games Saturday against Lebanon and in the second game of the day, the Wildcats erupted for 10 runs in the fifth to earn a 13-3 run-rule win over the Yellowjackets.
Gavin Kelley and Marion each led the way with a pair of hits and a pair of RBI, while Kaden Dickens drove in a pair of runs. Seward crossed home plate three times to lead the Wildcats.
Dickens and Gage Kelley each doubled for the Wildcats’ seven-hit attack.
Seward earned the win on the mound with two scoreless innings.