The Neosho Wildcats were fortunate to hang around with the Willard Tigers for as long as they did in their Central Ozark Conference Large contest Tuesday at Roy B. Shaver Stadium.
Neosho pitchers issued eight walks on the day — including seven by starter Kaleb Moreland — while Willard starter Tanner Norris went the distance and struck out 10 and walked none to help Willard to a 6-1 win.
Neosho trailed 2-1 until Willard plated four runs in the sixth and that proved more than enough for Norris, who finished with 91 pitches on the day while Neosho counterparts Moreland and Jared Stephens devoured 155 total pitches (Moreland 109, Stephens 46).
Willard left nine runners behind overall, including the bases loaded in the first two innings, and Neosho only left three behind since they collected four hits against Norris. No walks, no hit batters, and no errors for the Tigers.
To his credit, Moreland worked his way out of multiple jams and finished with two runs allowed (both earned) on six hits over 4 2/3 innings. He walked seven and struck out three.
“They broke it open in the sixth,” Neosho head coach Danny Powers said. “Kaleb does a good job of battling out of jams, but with pitch counts, he’s got to eliminate walks. I think he had seven today, which is a lot for him. I don’t think he pitched poorly, but when you give a good team like Willard that many times to go through a lineup, eventually they’re going to come around and they did in that sixth inning.”
Facing Neosho reliever Stephens in the sixth, No. 9 hitter Evan Dock worked a leadoff walk and then top of the order Ethan Thompson and Grant Harris made Neosho pay with back-to-back doubles, Harris’ two-bagger bringing home both Dock and Thompson and sparking a five-run top of the sixth. The Wildcats also hurt themselves in that inning with their only two errors of the contest.
Harris’ bat proved to harass Neosho all game, with four hits, two runs scored, and two RBI.
Meanwhile, Neosho earned a 1-all tie in the second when Tre Letts led off with a single and worked his way around the bases on consecutive groundouts and then scored on Gavin Kelley’s two-out single. Two-out hits have been a staple of Neosho’s offense in recent games.
All told, however, only Clint Winchester’s singles in the fourth and the seventh broke the repetition of Neosho outs against Norris.
“Willard has two guys (pitcher) that just attack and pound the strike zone,” Powers said. “I’m not sure that kid had too many three-ball counts in the game. We knew they were going to come in and throw a lot of strikes. Early on, I felt we put some good swings on the bat, I know we ended up with 10 Ks. After that, the bottom six, the bottom seven, I didn’t feel like our kids had the right approach. Of course, their pitcher gets to settle in a little bit with a five-run lead there, but Willard probably had their top three at three to five at-bats and if you get that many at-bats when you’re a good hitting team, you’re going to hit the baseball. Our guys are getting two or three at-bats a game and that makes it tough on you.”
Neosho dropped to 9-10 overall and 2-4 COC Large, while Willard improved to 19-4 on the season. The Wildcats return to action on the first day of May on the road against Ozark, another tough conference test for the Wildcats.