The Repmo Wrecking Crew is at it again.
Republic scored six runs in the first two innings, and Ryker Harrington and Kyle Hill teamed up for back-to-back home runs, as the Tigers rolled Ozark 6-3 in the district semifinals in Springfield Wednesday. Jared Hughes allowed a single run in the first inning, then retired 14 batters in a row on his way to the win. Cole Iles pitched a scoreless seventh inning for the save.
“We’re having a great time,” said coach Curt Plotner. “The kids are loose and playing well, and it’s easy to have a good time when you’re playing well. So we’re having a lot of fun.”
The win landed Republic in the district championship game against Joplin Thursday night. The Eagles, seeded fourth, knocked off top seed Kickapoo 7-1 in a game played during a heavy rain Thursday afternoon. The weather cleared before Republic and Ozark took the field, and the heavy rain didn’t resume until the sixth inning, when Ozark scored its last two runs of the game off Hughes, thanks in part to three walks.
The game started well for Ozark, but their failure to score more than one run in the first inning was a sign of Republic’s good fortune. Devyn Wright flied out to right field, hitting the ball so far that Harrington got his shoe caught in the fence as he made the catch. Caleb Casto singled, Holden Sabor was hit by a pitch, and Brody Baumann hit the ball on the nose, but right at Harrington. After Colton Casteel knocked in a run with a single, Hughes coaxed a ground ball out of Cooper Buvid, and Gavyn Beckner made a nice play at third base to end the inning.
The Tigers immediately responded in the bottom of the first with two runs of their own. With two outs, Brady Usgaard ripped a bases-loaded double to put Republic on top 2-0. It was the start of a trend, because Republic scored all six of its runs after two were out.
In the second inning, Brody Baumann retired the first two batters, but the top of the order did plenty of damage anyway. Vincent Pyeatt walked and Beckner doubled him home. Then Ryker Harrington ripped the ball deep over the center field fence for a two-run homer, making the score 5-1. Kyle Hill followed that up with a home run of his own, pulling the ball down the line in left field to give Republic a 6-1 lead.
Hughes took that lead and cruised the rest of the way, until the steady rain returned in the fifth. Ozark scored two runs and had the bases loaded (with the tying run on first base), but Hughes struck out Graydon Miller and Garrett Dotson to strand all three runners and preserve the three-run lead.
Republic failed to score in the bottom of the sixth, and Cole Iles came into the game to pitch the seventh. He struck out the first hitter, hit a batter, and got Caleb Casto to ground into a forceout. With two outs and Ozark’s #3 hitter, Sabor, at the plate, Casto wandered too far off the bag at first and Hill fired the ball behind him to Hughes at first base. Republic caught Casto in a rundown and Brady Usgaard eventually applied the tag to record the final out and win the game.
Republic will play Joplin at 5 pm Thursday for a district championship. Before the semifinal started, the Tigers knew top-seeded Kickapoo had been knocked out, but Plotner wasn’t worried about his players looking ahead.
“I feel like they’re pretty locked in on what they’re doing, and they understand that at this point in the season, anybody you play is going to be a tough game,” he said.
Jared Hughes, already the owner of the school record for RBIs in a season, tied another mark Wednesday when he was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the first inning. That was the ninth time he’s been hit this season, equaling the mark set by Tyler Brown in 1989.
The Tigers are seeking the first district championship since 2006. (Republic won back-to-back district titles in 2005 and 2006, losing each year to eventual state champion Webb City in the sectionals.) The winner of Thursday’s game will be in the state quarterfinals.
Republic is 20-9. The last time Republic had 20 wins in a season was 1999.