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Mustangs fall in district championship

Webb City advances to state tournament with 2-0 win by Graham Thomas | May 25, 2023 at 9:05 a.m.
Graham Thomas/McDonald County Press McDonald County second baseman Tucker Walters (middle) leads off first base as Webb City first baseman (right) Kenley Hood holds him on and pitcher Kaylor Darnell (left) prepares to throw a pitch Monday in the Class 5 District 7 championship at Roy B. Shaver Field in Neosho.

NEOSHO -- McDonald County's dream of advancing to the Missouri state baseball playoffs will have to wait another year.

The Mustangs were limited to just two hits in a 2-0 loss to Webb City in the Class 5 District 7 championship game Monday at Roy B. Shaver Field.

Webb City (21-13), the No. 2 seed from the district, advances to the Class 5 state tournament where it will host Kearney (24-9) in the opening round on Saturday at Webb City.

McDonald County's season ends with a record of 20-9 overall. The Mustangs were the No. 1 seed in the district after winning the Big 8 West Conference title for the third straight year and the overall Big 8 title.

First-year coach Heath Alumbaugh, who was a senior at McDonald County High School the last time the Mustangs won the district title in 2001, said the Mustangs will remember the journey of this 2023 season, not necessarily the final result.

"The relationships you build are the biggest thing," Alumbaugh said. "You always want the district championship. That's the big one. That's always the number one goal to start the season. But in the end it's all about the relationships you build with your firends and getting to play a game -- a kids' game with the guys that you grew up with. That's what it's about."

The game was scoreless heading into the top of the sixth inning.

McDonald County starting pitcher Weston Gordon, who came into the game not having allowed an earned run in his last 41 innings, managed to strand six Cardinals on base in the first five innings.

But Webb City also kept McDonald County off the board, including a play at the plate when Cardinals right fielder Eli Miller threw out Destyn Dowd trying to score from third on a fly ball off the bat of Isaac Behm in the fourth inning.

"Great throw from our right fielder Eli Miller, he's a senior," said Webb City assistant coach Aaron Snow, who was the Cardinals' acting coach after head coach Andrew Doennig was forced to sit out due to a seventh-inning ejection in Webb City's 3-2 win in eight innings over Belton in the district semifinals on May 18. "Great catch from (catcher) Shaun (Hunt) right there. Way to hang and apply the tag. Man, that was a huge play."

The Cardinals got on the scoreboard in the top of the sixth inning to take a 1-0 lead. Drew Vonder Haar led off with a double that was just out of reach for MCHS center fielder Jack Parnell. Vonder Haar moved to third on a sacrifice fly by Christian Brock and, after a walk, scored on a safety squeeze by pitcher Kaylor Darnell.

"It came down to execution," Snow said. "We work on the little things. Safety squeeze right there. We punch a run in, scratch one across and move on."

Gordon and the Mustangs escaped further damage with the help of a double play by shortstop Cross Dowd, who fielded a ground ball, stepped on second for the second out and threw to first to get out of the inning.

Darnell struck out the Mustangs' 7-8-9 hitters in the bottom of the sixth, and his offense got him an insurance run in the top of the seventh.

Gage Chapman walked and moved to third base on an error. He scored on an RBI hit by Hunt for a 2-0 lead.

Darnell retired Destyn Dowd on a ground ball and Cross Dowd on a line drive to center field to open the seventh.

Isaac Behm singled to left with two outs for McDonald County's second hit of the game.

The Cardinals then turned to reliever Walker Sweet, who walked Tucker Walters to bring the winning run to the plate. But Sweet struck out Gordon to end the game and the Mustangs' season.

Darnell finished with eight strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings, two hits and one walk. The Mustangs jumped on Darnell earlier in the season for a 6-3 win at Webb City on April 4.

"Can't say enough good things about Kaylor," Snow said. "He's been that way all year. He had one lump in the road. After that, he's given up 15 total runs on the year. And he's just in the zone 24-7 and competes his butt off. ... They got us 6-3 earlier in the year. Kaylor actually started that game. He struggled a little bit in the first inning (on April 4) and great way for him to come back and throw this one, great job."

Said Alumbaugh on Darnell's performance, "Yeah, last time he struggled to throw strikes. And we knew he's their number one. He's done a great job all year long. We knew he'd be much better tonight. Last time we saw him, that was not the norm for him. And that's what he did. He came out and threw a ton of strikes. They made routine plays behind him."

Gordon, in his final outing, went seven innings with seven hits, three strikeouts and three walks.

"Weston's our ace," Alumbaugh. "I think those are his first runs in (nearly) 42 innings. He had not given up a run in 41 straight before tonight, pitched his butt off all year long. He's been our guy for the whole season. Man I tell ya, Arkansas State-Three Rivers is getting a fierce competitor. They're getting a good one."

The championship game was moved from Warrensburg to Neosho to accomodate both teams and their fans for travel.

McDonald County 1, Warrensburg 0

WARRENSBURG -- Cross Dowd pitched 6 2/3 innings of shutout baseball and the Mustangs scored the game's only run to take a 1-0 win against Warrensburg in the district semifinals on Thursday, May 18.

Angel Ruiz recorded the final out to pick up a save for the Mustangs.

  photo  Graham Thomas/McDonald County Press The disappointed McDonald County Mustangs walk off the field Monday after losing 2-0 to Webb City in the Class 5 District 7 championship game at Roy B. Shaver Field in Neosho. The Mustangs finished the season with a record of 20-9.
  photo  Graham Thomas/McDonald County Press McDonald County senior Weston Gordon pitched a complete game for the Mustangs in a 2-0 loss to Webb City in the Class 5 District 7 championship game Monday at Roy B. Shaver Field in Neosho.

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