It’s a cliché to say a baseball team has a solid lineup from one through nine. In Republic’s case, the district championship game proved it. In two decisive innings, it was the 7-8-9 hitters (Bryce Messier, Richard Potter, and Gavin Walker) who got things rolling.
The Tigers scored six runs in the second and six more in the sixth, running away from Joplin in a six-inning, 13-3 victory. The win gave the Tigers their first district championship since 2006, and it put them into the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1982.
For the second game in a row, Republic allowed a run to its opponent in the top of the first inning, and for the second game in a row, it didn’t matter. Republic immediately tied the score 1-1 after Joplin broke on top 1-0 in the top of the first. An RBI single by Jared Hughes gave Republic its first run.
Joplin threatened in the second, but a nifty play by Hughes helped pitcher Gavyn Beckner avoid further damage. With a runner on third, Fielding Campbell hit a sharp ground ball to Hughes near first base. Hughes went to a knee to field the grounder, and before stepping on the base, he looked at the runner to freeze him in his tracks. Hughes stepped on first, then ran at runner Kirk Chandler to force him back to third base, where Ace McWatters applied the tag to complete the 3-5 double play and end the inning.
In the top of the second, the Tigers broke out with six runs, thanks in part to Messier, Potter, and Walker, who all reached base safely. That brought up the top of the lineup with nobody out and the bases loaded, and the Wrecking Crew wreaked havoc again. Vincent Pyeatt walked to force in a run, and Gavyn Beckner singled to drive in two more. Harrington knocked in a run with a single to make the score 5-1. When Kyle Hill flew out to deep right field, it turned into a run thanks to heads-up base running by Adam Brown. Brown tagged up at second base and scored, while Harrington took advantage of the throw home to advance to third base. On the next at-bat, Hughes drove in another run with a sacrifice fly, making the score 7-1.
The score remained steady through the middle innings, thanks to solid pitching by Beckner for Republic and Fielding Campbell, who had relieved Joplin starter Ethan Guilford in the second inning. At one point, Campbell retired 12 Tigers in a row.
Beckner cruised into the sixth inning, when Joplin finally started doing some damage. Three of the first four batters reached base safely, and Joplin scored a run to cut the Republic lead to 7-2. Cole Iles came in to relieve Beckner, walking the first hitter and allowing a sacrifice fly, then working out of the trouble with the score 7-3.
In the bottom of the sixth, Republic’s lineup put the game out of reach. And again, it was Messier, Potter, and Walker who started things off by loading the bases. The Tigers scored two runs when Vincent Pyeatt grounded to the shortstop, who threw home. The ball flicked off the end of the mitt of catcher David Fiscus and rolled to the backstop, allowing Messier and Potter to score. Beckner knocked in two more runs with a double to put Republic on top 11-3. And after two consecutive walks loaded the bases, both Hughes and Brady Usgaard were hit by pitches, forcing in two runs and ending the game early with a 13-3 score. (The hit-by-pitch was the 10th of the year for Hughes, who broke the previous single-season record set by Tyler Brown in 1989.)
“The kids had a lot of goals this year that they wanted to meet, and they’ve met quite a few of them,” said coach Curt Plotner. “I told them (a district championship) is the biggest goal for me, because it gives them an opportunity to achieve the ultimate, and that’s playing in the final four. So I’m just ecstatic and happy for the kids.”
A district title may be Plotner’s biggest goal, but he’s had his eyes on bigger things since at least early this week. In the team huddle after Republic won its district quarterfinal against Carthage, Plotner told his team “Five more.” That’s the number of games, at that point, Republic needed to win for a state championship.
“That’s wishful thinking sometimes, maybe, but I’ve got a group of guys that are just so determined to get the job done,” he said, “that they know what they’re playing for. They were fantastic today.”
Republic has more than a week off before the state quarterfinal a week from Saturday. The Tigers will play Jefferson City on the road at a time to be determined.
The Tigers are 21-9. Jefferson City is 21-13 and beat Blue Springs South to win its district.