By Cody Thorn
Photos courtesy of Ron and Lisa Rigdon, Cheap Seats Photo
OZARK — Even though the outcome of the game was almost all but decided, that didn’t take away the nerves for Southern Boone County’s Ryker Zimmerman.
The sophomore caught a fly ball for the final out in the Eagles’ 8-3 win against Logan-Rogersville in the Class 4 championship game on Thursday afternoon at U.S. Baseball Park.
“It was staying up there forever and I was just waiting for the ball to get there,” Zimmerman said of the liner to center field. “That was one of the scariest fly balls I've had.”
He secured the catch which locked up the first-ever championship in baseball for the school in Ashland. Gloves were soaring in the air and a dogpile soon followed between the pitcher’s mound and first base.
Zimmerman, the cleanup hitter for the Eagles, also delivered one of the biggest hits in the game as well that helped give his team a cushion in a four-run sixth inning.
Those four runs broke a 2-2 tie and helped the No. 2-ranked Eagles hold off the No. 4-ranked Wildcats, which had a considerable amount of fans due to the proximity just a short trip across Highway 60.
Logan-Rogersville (26-8) built a 2-0 lead on an error and a sac fly by Missouri State pledge Curry Sutherland.
There were some parallels for Southern Boone County, which fell behind in the semifinals before finally rallying and beating Marshall in 11 innings on Wednesday. The Eagles had guys on base early, but kept stranding a majority of them.
The same thing happened in this game. Of the 10 left on base, eight of them happened over the first five innings.
“We finally broke through with a big inning and had a four-run inning and that tacked on there late. That was kind of the difference in the game,” Southern Boone County coach Brian Ash said. “We kind of buried ourselves early. We made a pretty bad error, but we didn’t panic.”
Bradley Smith had a one-out single to start the four-run frame for Southern Boone County (34-2), which closed the year with a 21-1 surge, with the only loss coming to Class 3 finalist Father Tolton Catholic.
Carter Karotka, the winning pitcher in relief, followed Smith’s hit with a single and then Chase Morris drew a walk to load the bases for the Eagles.
Austin ‘AJ’ Evans, who provided the game-winning hit against Marshall, provided the go-ahead RBI in this game with a sac fly to right field. Then Zimmerman took the second pitch he saw into the gap in left-center field, rolling all the way to the fence near the 375 feet sign.
Karotka easily scored from third base and Morris scooted around from first to score. Zimmerman slid safely into third base and jumped up to celebrate giving his team a 5-2 lead.
“You know, I just had a job to do,” said Zimmerman, who hit his third triple of the year. “It was a big hit from AJ in the beginning. You have bases loaded, he hits the sac fly to score one and we take the lead.
"I get up there and we have a job to do with the baserunners and I just did it. It worked out pretty well in the end.”
Zimmerman then trotted home later in the inning on a balk call, which was awarded after a conference of the umpires.
Morris had a two-run single in the top of the seventh to push the Eagles’ lead to 8-2. Morris and Karotka, the team’s top two batters in the lineup, each had two hits.
Logan-Rogersville tacked on the final run on an RBI triple by Sutherland with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
Karotka then got the fly ball out against the next batter to end the game and pick up the win. The southpaw threw three innings in relief, giving up two hits, one run and fanning two.
The win was a historic one for Ash as well. He became the first high school baseball coach in state history to win a title with three different schools.
He led Blair Oaks to championships in 2006 and 2007, and then led Jefferson City to the crown in 2017.
Class 4 Third Place
Kennett 13, Marshall 3
The defending state champions bounced back from a semifinal loss by getting a mercy-rule win against the Owls in the third-place game on Thursday morning.
The middle of the lineup for the Indians did the most damage, as the No. 4-5-6 hitters were 4-for-6 with eight of the team’s 11 RBIs. That trio was Tanner Duncan, JT Williams and Tanner Pierce, respectively.
Kennett (26-5) went up 1-0 early on Pierce’s RBI single in the first inning but broke the game open by scoring six runs - all with two outs - in the top of the second inning.
Duncan, an Arkansas State signee, provided the big hit, a two-run triple. Pierce added another triple in the inning for the Indians before right fielder Randy Gardner capped the scoring with a single.
Two other runs scored from a hit by pitch and a balk.
The lead went to 13-0 with four runs in the third and then two more in the fourth. The only RBI hit in that stretch was from third baseman Reese Robinett, a single in the fourth. Williams and Gardner had sac flies for Kennett as well.
Marshall’s first run came from catcher Zach Martinez on a home run in the bottom of the fourth. Leadoff hitter Coy Smith added an RBI double in the fifth.
On the mound, Duncan gave up one earned run over five innings and struck out six.
Marshall's Cinderella run to the final four ended with an 0-2 mark and a 12-19 mark on the season.