WILLARD — The Neosho Wildcats earned their fourth win in five games with a 3-0 victory Thursday over Class 5 state-ranked Willard.
Mason Ray gave his second strong pitching performance in a row, Gage Kelley came on for the final out and the save, and Brett Cook sparked the offense with a two-run home run.
Kelley also made a couple diving catches in the outfield and drove in the game’s final run with a bunt single in the second.
Ray allowed four hits and had seven strikeouts and two walks over 6 2/3 innings. He finished at 103 pitches and both he and fellow senior Jared Stephens provided Neosho with high-quality starts in wins over Central Ozark Conference foes Republic and Willard.
Ray’s previous outing came in the Mickey Mantle Classic against Miami, when he allowed one run (earned) on three hits with eight strikeouts and two walks over six innings.
It seems that Ray has solidified himself a spot in Neosho’s rotation.
(In both Ray starts, a Neosho player hit a home run — Tre Letts against Miami and Cook against Willard.)
Kelley threw three pitches and picked up the final out on a fly ball.
Offensively, Payton Ezell led Neosho with two hits and Cook, Letts, Ray, and Kelley each had one hit. Kaden King worked a walk and came around to score Neosho’s third run. Weston Durman reached on an error and scored on Cook’s homer. Letts doubled.
Neosho improved to 7-6 overall and 2-1 COC. The Wildcats return to action Tuesday at home against Carl Junction and then they welcome Ozark on Thursday.
Neosho opened its season with a 5-1 loss at home to Carl Junction, as five errors cost the Wildcats especially late when Carl Junction pushed across three runs in the seventh.
Neosho’s offense struggled against Carl Junction ace Jeremiah Kennedy, who allowed one run (earned) on six hits with 12 strikeouts and two walks over 6 1/3 innings.
Ray took the loss in that contest, but it’s likely the Wildcats will throw ace Stephens against CJ.
Carl Junction owns a 5-7 overall and 0-3 COC record.