WEBB CITY, Mo. — The Joplin Eagles opened the 2023 season with the Bishop McGuinness (Oklahoma) Irish in a high-quality game that featured timely hitting, solid pitching, sound baserunning and sometimes spectacular defensive plays on Friday at Chuck Barnes Field.
Ultimately, Bishop McGuinness came out of Friday’s doubleheader with a sweep of conference rivals Webb City and Joplin, defeating the latter 4-3 in the nightcap with the winning run scored on a wild pitch in the top of the seventh.
“That’s the thing, it’s opening day for us and you can’t ask for a better baseball game,” Joplin coach Kyle Wolf said. “There were special plays being made and I thought, overall, we did some really good things. Obviously, with it being the first game of the year, there’s some things we need to clean up that we’re going to do later in the year that will give us a chance to win that game. I was proud of the way that we competed, and we had a chance. That’s all you can ask for against a good team.”
The Eagles fell behind 2-0 early on after Bishop McGuinness pushed across one in the first and one in the third.
Joplin scored all three runs in the fourth with a RBI triple by Layten Copher, a RBI single by Landon Maples, and a go-ahead RBI single by Byler Reither, as the Eagles started to find a spark offensively the second time against Bishop McGuinness starter Jackson Cassil.
“Finally started to string something together a little bit,” Wolf said. “It really started the inning before with Caden Shoemaker coming up and getting the first hit of the game, and that broke that seal a little bit. Guys worked some good at-bats too, and I thought we had a good approach through those middle innings at the plate. Early on, I didn’t think we had a good approach and later on, I thought we got out of that. That’s something we’re going to talk about and improve on.”
Bishop McGuinness scored one run in the fifth and the final run in the seventh for the win.
The Irish made a pair of outstanding late defensive plays that helped earn them that win.
In the sixth, with two outs and the bases loaded for the Eagles, second baseman Cassil made a stop in the hole on a ball that got past the first baseman and he threw on to a covering pitcher Ben Corley for the out and the preserved 3-all score.
In the seventh, Copher hit a hard single to left field, but left fielder Peter Bilicki got to the ball quickly and fired a strike to Cassil for the first out against Copher and the Eagles.
“That’s just great baseball, that play at first base with the pitcher being there and the second baseman didn’t give up on the play,” Wolf said. “He made a good throw and that’s a good runner with Justin McReynolds running down the line. He had to get rid of it quick.
“I thought defensively both teams were good and made some amazing plays for this early in the year. That’s something that is certainly an exciting part of this game, to see what we did defensively, and I thought we pitched really well, both Justin and Alex (Isbell) for their first outings of the year.”
Isbell took the loss in relief, and he allowed two runs (one earned) on one hit over three innings with four strikeouts and two walks, while starter McReynolds allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits with six strikeouts and two walks over the first four innings.
Copher and Shoemaker each had two hits to spark the Eagles’ nine-hit attack and Reither, Brady Mails, McReynolds, Jackson Queen, and Landon Maples each had one hit.
McReynolds, Copher, and Maples each scored a run and Reither, McReynolds, and Shoemaker each stole a base.
The Eagles played Bishop McGuinness, a Catholic school in Oklahoma City, presumably for the first time ever.
“It was kind of a fluke deal,” Wolf said. “They had contacted some people down in this area because they’re playing down in Wyandotte (Okla.) tomorrow and were just looking for some opportunities. Certainly, that’s a great opportunity for opening night. Wish it was a little bit warmer, but whenever the game’s competitive there at the end, I didn’t notice the cold too much and baseball is baseball then.”
Joplin, 0-1 overall, returns to the field on Tuesday at home against St. Mary’s Colgan (Kansas).