NEOSHO, Mo. — Joplin pushed five runs across in the top of the ninth inning en route to a 7-2 extra-inning win over Neosho to open Central Ozark Conference play on Thursday at Roy B. Shaver Field.
“At the end of the day, it’s a good win,” Joplin coach Kyle Wolf said. “Credit to their lefty (Wyatt Keplar). He gave us fits. We didn’t do a good job of adjusting. And I told the kids they picked me up and found a way to win that game. We missed some signs and things, but I have to manage the game better and get my guys ready to play better.”
The Eagles (7-1, 1-0 COC) and the Wildcats (1-8, 0-1 COC) found themselves in a pitcher’s duel with the game scoreless after three innings.
Joplin scored an unearned run in the top of the fourth to break the seal, and Neosho answered right back with a run in the bottom half to keep the game tied. Joplin scored another unearned run in the sixth to take a 2-1 advantage, but the Wildcats rallied in the seventh for a run to force extra innings.
Neosho loaded the bases with one out in the eighth only for Joplin to get out of the jam with an unconventional double play, with the Eagles parlaying the momentum into a five-run ninth inning to earn the conference win.
“I’m proud of the way we battled back after being down 2-1,” Neosho coach Danny Powers said. “We still are putting too many on base for free. Unfortunately, we had two bad errors early in the game that led to two runs. Combine that with eight walks, and your pitcher is at 105 pitches and you have to take him out of the game. It’s encouraging that hopefully we understand now that we are good enough to compete with anybody. We just have to learn to finish games out.”
ON THE MOUND
Joplin’s Ethan Guilford started and took the no-decision after surrendering two runs on eight hits, a walk and six strikeouts in seven-plus innings of work. Josh Harryman earned the win after pitching two scoreless relief innings, allowing one hit, walking three and striking out two.
“Ethan is a competitive son of a gun,” Wolf said. “He is a bulldog. He’ll fight with you. … He was really efficient. … He had a great outing … and gave us a chance to win by throwing really, really well.”
Neosho’s Wyatt Keplar started and took a no-decision after allowing two unearned runs on one hit, eight walks and five strikeouts over six innings of work. River Brill allowed four runs on three hits, three walks and two strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings and took the loss. Carson Thomas allowed one run on one hit and two walks in 2/3 of an inning.
Joplin struggled with the bat against Neosho in terms of stringing together hits, but the Eagles’ plate discipline played a major role in the win. Joplin drew a total of 13 walks in the win, and all three innings the Eagles scored were started with a leadoff walk.
“In a game like that when you are struggling to get some hits, you have to find a way to get it done,” Wolf said. “Whether that’s getting hit by a pitch, taking a walk or getting a bunt down. It’s finding ways to get on base and moving some people around.”
In the fourth, Kohl Cooper led off with a walk before moving to second on a sac bunt from David Fiscus. He moved to third on a groundout and scored after Neosho mishandled a line drive off the bat of Guilford to take a 1-0 lead.
The Wildcats answered back in the bottom half of the inning when Keplar reached on an infield hit to third that scored Lane Yost, who singled to lead off the inning.
“That was big for us because it’s a momentum thing,” Powers said. “If (Guilford) comes out and has a 1-2-3 inning, that is a bit of a momentum killer for us and a boost for them. It was a good job of responding. I thought we responded twice very well offensively to put us in a position to win the game.”
Bodee Carlson walked to lead off the sixth frame before a walk to Cooper put runners on first and second. With one out, Alex Curry appeared to ground into a potential double play, but the relay throw from second sailed out of play in the first-base dugout to score Carlson while putting Joplin on top 2-1.
Keplar led off the seventh for the Wildcats with an opposite-field triple to left and came around to score the tying run two batters later when Jose Ortega singled sharply through the right side.
“Wyatt had a big hit for us,” Powers said. “And Jose followed with a great at-bat, hitting the ball on the ground through the right side, which is exactly what he is supposed to do.”
Neosho had a real chance to end the game in the bottom of the eighth after River Brill had an opposite-field double to left to lead off the inning. With Harryman in for Guilford, a sacrifice bunt moved Brill to third with one out. Wolf decided to intentionally walk the next two Wildcats to load the bases. The move paid off, as Brett Slavens hit a shallow fly ball to Cooper in right, who caught the ball and fired it to first to double off the Wildcat baserunner and end the threat.
“That was great awareness by Kohl,” Wolf said. “Most guys are thinking, ‘I have to keep that run from tagging.’ He knew immediately when he caught it that he had a play at first base. That’s good awareness on the field in a big moment by him.”
Joplin loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth after a walk from Kirk Chandler, an infield from Byler Reither and a walk by Fielding Campbell. Carlson scored the go-ahead run with a single through the left side past an outstretched glove. After back-to-back RBI walks with the bags full by Cooper and Fiscus, Curry doubled to right field to bring home two runs and push the lead to 9-2.
“Bodee is a player, and every time he comes up to the plate (in that situation), you feel like he is going to come up with one of those hits,” Wolf said. “Alex is the one guy who I felt had a good approach last night and a good approach today. … Alex, all 6-foot-4, 290 pounds of him said I am going to take it and serve it to right field if that’s what you’re giving me.”
AT THE PLATE
Curry had two hits, including a double, and a team-high two RBI, while Carlson and Copper each had a hit, an RBI and two runs scored. Cooper and Campbell each walked three times.
Keplar led Neosho with three hits, including a triple, and had an RBI and a run scored. Brill and Yost each had two hits, with Yost scoring a run.
Joplin travels to McDonald County for a 10 a.m. matchup on Saturday, while Neosho is at Aurora for a 10 a.m. matchup on Saturday.