FARMINGTON — The MABA Americans managed to sidestep danger at the Babe Ruth 15-and-under state tournament Thursday night on the strength of strong pitching and defense.
They were not so fortunate following a lethargic performance on Friday, and are now one loss away from ending a remarkable run of five consecutive state and regional championship seasons.
Stephen Carter capped his 3-for-4 effort with a decisive RBI single in the sixth inning, and SEMO South stormed back from five runs down to complete a stunning 8-7 upset and reach the winner’s bracket final.
Blakeney Kearbey averted any drama by pitching a perfect seventh, striking out dangerous threats Brayden Krause and Gunner LaBrot on three pitches apiece. Kearbey got the final six batters in relief for the win.
Tyler Essner and Austin Bucher each singled twice as SEMO South advanced to face scorching Caruthersville for a berth in the championship game.
Andres Castro was 2-for-4 and Keenan Johnson reached base three times for the Americans, who seemed to have control of the contest after batting around and pouncing for five runs in the first inning.
Brandt Busenbark singled to begin the scoring off pitcher Bryce Alcorn, and Brandon Winder made it 5-0 as the fourth MABA hit of the frame matched its entire total from the previous night.
SEMO South would not be intimidated, showing an aggressive approach at the plate to compile 13 hits overall.
American right-hander Logan Winder struggled to decieve opposing batters from the outset, allowing hits to six of his first seven batters, but was able to exhibit damage control early on.
The MABA defense turned a sacrifice fly into a key double play on a strong throw from right fielder Nick Haney, and Johnson threw out a potential base stealer to end the first inning.
Kearbey doubled and Alcorn singled to begin the SEMO South second, but Winder won an 8-pitch battle for a strikeout and emerged unscathed.
The Americans failed to break open a 6-1 game through the middle innings, and saw the margin dwindle after SEMO South mounted a pivotal 2-out rally.
Winder nearly struck out the side in the fourth, but was not given the call on the corner after freezing his third batter.
Trey Hampton instead drew a walk, and Jordan Griggs followed with a long triple to right-center. Subsequent hits by Essner and Bucher made it 6-5, and only a basket catch by left fielder Matt Eaton preserved that narrow lead.
Johnson doubled and scored an insurance run on defensive interference in the fifth, but MABA lost LaBrot between third and home on the same play.
SEMO South pulled even on a wild pitch in the home half after a critical 2-out throwing error extended the fifth inning.
Griggs reached on a bobbled ground ball to start the sixth, and represented the winning run when a hard grounder by Carter caught the edge of the wet infield grass and redirected over the third baseman.
The beneficial bounce for SEMO South occurred after the MABA squandered a scoring chance during their sixth. Haney was picked off at first by Kearbey after ripping a lead-off single.
Busenbark took the loss despite yielding a lone unearned run. Winder struck out five and allowed 11 hits through five innings.
The MABA Americans must string together five consecutive wins over three days to extend their summer. The first test comes Saturday at 11 a.m. versus the interleague rival MABA Nationals.