ODESSA, Mo. – For Marshall’s baseball team, and in the mind the Oak Grove coach Kirk Sears, Marshall’s two wins in district play entering Wednesday were much more indicative of the Owls’ ability than their mere five wins in regular season.
In Class 4 District 13 championship game at the Odessa Athletic Complex, Marshall again showed its winning moxie, holding off a late charge from top-seeded Oak Grove for 7-5 victory.
Marshall, which has several players still from its state final four team of two years ago, and knocked off No. 3 seed Odessa and No. 2 Excelsior Springs to get to Wednesday's final, takes an 8-21 record into next week’s sectional game at Pembroke Hill. Oak Grove, last year’s Class 4 state runner-up, bowed out at 22-7.
“Very scary,” Sears said on what he thought of Marshall before the game. “That’s not a seven-win team over there, and coach (Ian) Verts does a great job with them.
“Like my assistant said, it’s a game of inches. The kid makes a diving catch in center, and then the nice play in left. Without that, it gets to the gap.”
Marshall sophomore Zach Maupin, who legged out a pair of bunt singles and scored twice from the 9-hole in the batting order, replaced starter Mason Paulus on the mound to protect the two-run edge in the seventh. Oak Grove’s Drew Phillips led off with a fly ball that right fielder Tyler Cotts caught on a dive. Paulus fanned Tony Phillips but issued walks to Austin Nibarger and Jake Kienzler, giving Aaron Graham a chance to play hero.
Graham lined a 2-2 pitch toward left-center, but Garrett Clouse closed in and made the game-ending grab.
“We’ve had so much adversity this year,” said Verts, whose team built leads of 5-1 and 7-2. “We beefed up the intensity of our schedule and paid dearly for it in the regular season, but I think it paid dividends in the postseason.”
Marshall gave Paulus a quick lead when Cott started the game by slicing a triple to the right field corner off Nibarger and Canaan Heinzler plated him on the next pitch with a sacrifice fly. But Oak Grove responded in the bottom of the first when Tony Phillips poked a two-out single to drive in Tanner Johnson.
Johnson had reached second on Paulus’ throwing error, but the Marshall settled in after that didn’t allow another hit until the fifth. In each of the previous two innings he stranded a pair of walks. Paulus struck out just one in six innings but got 12 ground ball outs.
“He did a good job of hitting his spots and changing speeds,” Sears said of Paulus, who had pitched a no-hitter in Marshall’s win over Odessa. “He got us to roll (our hands) over a lot. We couldn’t stay back and drive the ball. Hitting is timing, and pitching is disrupting that timing.”
Marshall got the lead back when Joseph Damiano and Paulus started the fourth with singles and Harrison Rocha’s one-out grounder scored a courtesy runner.
Devin Cott, Maupin and Tyler Cott then started the fifth with singles, and Devin Cott came home when a throw to third from the cut-off man when awry. A ball-jarring slide at home off a fielder’s choice and a sac fly scored two more runs to make it 5-1.
In the sixth, Tyler Cott doubled home Devin Cott and Maupin with two outs against reliever Skyler Jackson.
“Tyler Cotts’ hit in the sixth was a big lift, because we needed to stay in front,” Verts said.
Oak Grove had closed within 5-2 in the fifth on Dakota Hearn’s leadoff single and two stolen bases and Johnson’s RBI ground out.
In the sixth, Kienzler and Graham singled with one out and a possible double-play grounder by Austin Reader bounced past the second baseman, making it 7-3. With two outs, Hearn’s liner redirected off Paulus’ chest and trickled into shallow right for a two-run double.
But Paulus recovered to induce an inning-ending ground out before Maupin survived the seventh.
“Their pitchers did a good job of making pitches,” Kienzler said. “We didn’t do a good job of hitting in a lot of situations, but we fought hard and hit the ball.”