By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
OZARK - With East Buchanan and Marionville both vying for their first baseball championship in program history, it's no surprise that Tuesday's Class 2 title game was such a thriller.
It's also no surprise that such a back-and-forth game came down to the final pitch in the final inning.
Rallying from an early 6-0 deficit, Marionville (23-6) loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs, the Comets scored the winning run off of a wild pitch and defeated the Bulldogs 8-7 at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.
A gut-wrenching end to a terrific postseason run and season from East Buchanan.
"It was a great game," Bulldogs coach Dave Elms said. "Of course, it didn't end up the way we wanted it. It was the big stage, and we didn't play a clean enough baseball game. But, sometimes when you start blaming things on yourself, you're not giving enough credit to your opponents. We knew they were good hitters and that they'd score a lot of runs. We had to limit those mistakes, but unfortunately tonight, it didn't work out our way."
Things were going East Buchanan's way early on. Senior Matthew Liechti walked into bases loaded in the first inning to give the Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead.
Two walks, two errors and a hit batter allowed three more runs to score in the second. East Buchanan (18-9) then tallied two more runs off of three hits in the top of the third and led 6-0 at that point.
Marionville bit back in the bottom of the third, scoring five runs on four hits, including two-run RBI singles from Jacksen Smith and Jacob Davis.
The Comets grabbed their first lead at 7-6 in the bottom of the fifth, scoring two runs off of a walk, a hit batter, three stolen bases and two wild pitches.
Smith and Kyle Brattin both reached first base via free pass, and were both able to score from third off of wild pitches. Junior Conner Musser, who started on the mound, and sophomore Bronco Whitt, who tossed the final four innings, each threw five wild pitches in Tuesday's game.
"You throw in the rainy conditions, the high pressure, (Marionville) starts getting baserunners and the offensive threats they had up and down the lineup, it makes every pitch a big pitch," Elms said. "They capitalized on some mistakes, were well disciplined at the plate and took advantage when they could."
Facing their first deficit in the Final Four, East Buchanan responded in a big way in the top of the sixth. Musser led off the frame with a triple to deep left-center, and Liechti brought him home with a bloop single to right, tying the game at 7-7.
Marionville led off the bottom of the sixth by loading the bases with a double, single and a walk. Whitt then sat down the next three batters in a row via strikeout to retire the side and keep the tie intact.
The Bulldogs had runners on first and second with two outs in the top of the seventh, but were unable to take the lead back.
Marionville got their first two runners on in the bottom of the seventh via walk and hit-by-pitch. Smith, who was hit by the pitch, tried to steal third after reaching second, but was tagged out in the process.
With a runner already at first, junior Lake High reached second on a dropped fly ball in deep right field, and an intentional walk to junior Cale Clark loaded the bases once more.
In the next at-bat, senior Jordan Williams hit a groundball down the first base line, which was scooped up by Liechti and thrown home, where junior catcher Luke Webb tagged Wyley Brown out at home to record the second out and keep the tie intact.
But with bases still loaded, the very next pitch after the tagout at home sailed over Webb's head and all the way to the backstop, giving High plenty of time to score from third, and giving the Comets a walk-off victory and their first ever state championship in baseball.
"It wasn't one play, it wasn't one pitch," Elms said of the final play. "It really wasn't that one thing that beat us. It was a combination different things. Bronco is a sophomore in class, but is a freshman as a player without the season last year. He has a lot of room to grow. There's a lot of upside for him."
East Buchanan made it further in the postseason than many thought they would, defying expectations and rewriting program history all along the way.
It obviously stings to come within one run of the ultimate prize, and it's never fun being on the losing end of a walk-off, particularly when a championship is at stake.
But, East Buchanan can go back to Gower with their heads held high. First district title. First Final Four. First championship game appearance.
Not the ending they wanted, but a storybook season nonetheless.
"I'm very proud of the kids. No one thought we'd be in this position. And to get here and make the history that we did, I'm very proud of them. One thing I told the people coming back next year that this should be a driving force. I hope they find time to get better at this sport, and hopefully, we can make another run at it at some point in the near future."
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.