NEOSHO, Mo. — History repeated itself on Monday night at Roy B. Shaver Field.
For the second straight year, the Webb City Cardinals captured a district title inside the Neosho School District’s Marion Sports Complex.
A stellar pitching performance, flawless defense and timely hitting led second-seeded Webb City past top-seeded McDonald County 2-0 in the championship game of the Class 5 District 7 baseball tournament.
“Winning a district championship two years in-a-row was one of our goals at the beginning of the year,” Webb City coach Aaron Snow said. “The kids on both sides executed all game long. It was a great baseball game. I knew whoever scored first was probably going to win the game. I’m just really proud of the kids.”
Webb City defeated Carl Junction in last year’s district title game at the same location.
“It feels great to come out on top,” Webb City senior Kaylor Darnell said after the nail-biter. “I have a bunch of great players to play with. I can’t stress enough how much fun it’s been to play with all these guys over the years. Winning a district championship is a lot of fun. And winning a district championship back-to-back is really great.”
Webb City (21-13) will host Kearney (24-9) at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon in a Class 5 quarterfinal at Chuck Barnes Field.
McDonald County was looking to win its first district title since 2001. The Mustangs end the season with a record of 20-9.
“You always want to win a district championship, that’s always the No. 1 goal when you start the season,” McDonald County coach Heath Alumbaugh said. “In the end, it’s all about the relationships you build with the kids. We have a great group of seven seniors. I’ve had them for six years myself. It’s a great group of kids.”
GAME RECAP: A PITCHER’S DUEL
Simply put, the district title game was a well-played pitcher’s duel between Webb City’s Kaylor Darnell and Mac County’s Weston Gordon.
In the end, Webb City was the team that was able to manufacture a couple of runs.
Webb City had their first real scoring opportunity in the top of the fourth. Christian Brock walked and Kenley Hood singled to left before Kaylor Darnell’s sacrifice bunt put runners at second and third with two outs.
But the runners were stranded in scoring position, as Gordon induced William Hayes into an inning-ending chopper back to the mound.
The Mustangs had a golden opportunity in the bottom of the fourth. Destyn Dowd reached on an infield single, took second on Cross Dowd’s sac bunt and went to third on a wild pitch.
Next, Isaac Behm flew out to shallow right field. On the play, Dowd tagged up and tried to score, but Webb City right fielder Eli Miller threw a perfect strike to catcher Shaun Hunt, who applied the tag at the plate for a key double play.
In the fifth, Webb City’s Sam Weller singled, went to second on a botched pickoff attempt and took third on Cy Darnell’s fly out. But Gordon was able to strike out Hunt to end the threat.
The Cardinals finally broke through in the sixth.
Junior third baseman Drew Vonder Haar led off the inning with a double to deep center field. Vonder Haar advanced to third base on Brock’s fly out to right before Hood drew a walk to put runners on the corners with just one out.
Next, in a game-changing play, Kaylor Darnell laid down the squeeze bunt towards first base, Vonder Haar charged home and Darnell was safe at first for the clutch infield single.
“Going into that at-bat, I knew I was going to bunt down the first base line,” Darnell said. “I knew what I had to do and I was able to lay it down.”
“Kaylor is a great bunter, so I knew instantly to go with the safety squeeze,” Snow said. “He executed it perfectly.”
The Cardinals could do no further damage, as the Mustangs turned a nifty 6-3 double play to end the inning.
Darnell struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth before Webb City added a key insurance run in the top of the seventh inning. Senior center fielder Gage Chapman walked and later scored on Hunt’s clutch RBI double to right field.
Kaylor Darnell retired the first two batters of the bottom of the seventh before allowing a single to Behm. With that, Coach Snow called on senior right-hander Walker Sweet to close out the win.
Sweet walked Tucker Walters to give the Mustangs two runners on base, but he struck out Gordon to end the game.
NAMES & NUMBERS
A senior right-hander, Kaylor Darnell was the winning pitcher. In a masterful performance, Darnell allowed just two hits and one walk in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out eight.
“My fastball was working for me today and it’s easy to throw fastballs when your team plays great defense behind you,” Darnell said.
Sweet earned the save after recording the final out.
“Kaylor did a great job of filling it up,” Snow said. “He had all of his pitches working. And Walker came in and shut the door.”
The Cardinals did not commit an error.
“Our defense was huge,” Snow said. “In a game like this, you know both teams are going to put the ball in play. We had a couple of great turns up the middle. Eli’s throw from right field to get the runner out at home was a huge play. It was just a well-executed baseball game.”
A senior right-hander, Gordon took the loss, but threw well in defeat.
“Weston is our ace,” Alumbaugh said. “I think those are the first runs he’s allowed in like 42 innings. He pitched his butt off tonight. He’s been our guy all season. Arkansas State-Three Rivers is getting a fierce competitor.”
Gordon allowed two runs on six hits and four walks and struck out four in seven innings.
“Weston is a great pitcher and he had a great outing,” Snow said. “He was in the zone. We knew it was going to be a battle.”
The Cardinals had a little extra motivation, as the Mustangs beat the Cardinals 6-3 in the regular season meeting back in April.
“Our kids were pretty hungry after losing to them 6-3 (earlier in the season),” Snow noted.
“Last time, he struggled to throw strikes,” Alumbaugh said of Darnell’s early-season outing. “But we knew he’d be much better tonight. We knew he was their No. 1. He came out, threw strikes and they made routine plays behind him.”
Alumbaugh noted it was a fun game to be a part of, regardless of the final outcome.
“Great pitching and great defense…that’s what you want in a district championship game,” he said. “That’s what makes it fun.”
As far as Saturday’s opponent, Webb City defeated Kearney 8-5 earlier this season. The rematch will determine who advances to the semifinals.
As far as Snow, he was thrust into a head coaching role for the district title game, as Andrew Doennig was absent after being ejected from the district semifinal.
“Coach Doennig had a great game plan coming in and he’s involved all of us assistant coaches all year, so that really played a huge role in my confidence today,” Snow said.
VENUE CHANGE EQUALS LARGE CROWD
The district title game was originally scheduled to be played in Warrensburg.
The game’s location was changed to Neosho. And with that, fans of both schools were able to come out and cheer on their favorite team.
There were more than 500 fans in attendance at Roy B. Shaver Field, which created a great atmosphere for the district title game.
“Warrensburg has a great facility and they’re a great host, but not having to drive three hours one way was huge for us,” Alumbaugh said. “We were able to stay in our normal routine. And that type of crowd is what you want in a championship game.”
Snow had a similar view.
“It was a no-brainer to move the game here,” Snow said. “Having the big crowd here today was fantastic. Our crowd was awesome…their crowd was awesome. The atmosphere was great. I hope the atmosphere is even better at Chuck Barnes Field on Saturday.”
FULL STATS: Webb City HS (webbcitycardinals.com)