STE. GENEVIEVE – Brady Boyer made a tricky base-running decision that helped save the season, then found himself at the plate Thursday evening with a trip to the state playoffs at stake.
The senior center fielder lined a 2-0 pitch for an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning, and was promptly mobbed after teammate Grant Staffen dived across home plate.
Ste. Genevieve capitalized on three North County errors plus another key misplay, and prevailed 7-6 on its home turf in a riveting Class 4, District 2 baseball championship tussle.
The Dragons (22-4) captured their third all-time district crown and first since 2013, and will travel to Sikeston for a state sectional clash on Tuesday.
“I can’t put into words how it feels right now,” senior Derek Morganthaler said. “Brady comes up with two runners on – the runner at second was the only one that mattered – and got that base hit. That dogpile, man, that’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Morganthaler pitched 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, and induced a key ground ball that Staffen gloved for a double play while trailing 6-5 in the seventh.
Four lead changes unfolded as the conference rivals met for the fourth time this spring. Ste. Genevieve gained the upper hand for the season series two weeks ago in the MAAA tournament final.
North County experienced the anticipation of being one out away from ecstatic triumph, only to watch its fragile lead vanish on a fluke bounce less than 10 seconds later.
Boyer elected to tag from second base as positional counterpart Cole Ziegler made an dazzling catch while sprinting into the left-center alley for the second out of the seventh.
Shortstop Kolten Poorman cut the initial throw, and fired low to third baseman Karter Kekec. The ball skipped and redirected off pitcher Carter Dunn, who was backing up, before rolling into the dugout.
Boyer sprang to his feet and pumped his fist while being awarded home plate with the tying run. Two ensuing batters reached safely before a fly ball sent the contest into extra innings.
“As soon as the ball went up, I started backtracking to the base. And then I was like ‘I don’t think he’s going to catch it’ – and I started going – ‘so I need to score on this,’” Boyer said.
“And then he somehow pulled it in, so I had to go back to the base and run to third. I slid in and was about to stand up, and I heard our coach screaming. I look up and the umpire is pointing me toward home. I was like ‘Oh man, this is awesome!’”
Morganthaler walked No. 9 batter Noah Mesey and beaned Cody Hubbard with two outs in the North County eighth, but the dangerous Poorman flied out to Boyer on the next offering.
Staffen got aboard when Kekec fielded a sharp ground ball and bounced his throw across the diamond. He advanced on a Chad Donze sacrifice bunt, and Boyer connected to right-center two batters later.
“Everybody wants to go 4-for-4. Everybody wants five RBIs and all of those statistics,” Ste. Genevieve head coach McDaniel said. “That’s during the regular season, and that helps you work toward these situations right here.
“When your number is called, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the 3, 4 or 5 hitter, whatever it is in that lineup, you’re going to be asked to do a job and you get it done… It honestly was a team effort and the culmination of four years for these guys.”
Boyer commenced a desperate tying rally in the seventh by greeting Dunn with a double, and finished 3-for-5 overall from the clean-up spot.
Freshman infielder Zach Boyer sparked an otherwise quiet lower portion of the Dragons’ order in a 3-for-4 effort, and lashed a leadoff single in the fourth with his club down 3-2.
Poorman could not cleanly handle a ground ball after Raiders starter Shelby Lee walked Staffen, and Zach Boyer raced home when a pitch caromed to the backstop.
Keaton Boyer followed with a two-run single through the middle, handing Ste. Genevieve a 5-3 edge while chasing Lee from the mound.
Dragons starter Logan Gegg threw 5 2/3 innings with three strikeouts, and settled in to retire nine consecutive batters until North County surged in the sixth.
Layton Mallow and Nate Roberts stroked back-to-back singles before moving up on a wild pitch, and Devin Seastrand delivered a tying two-RBI single past first base.
Kekec broke the 5-5 deadlock with an RBI single past third, and North County had an opportunity for even greater production after two Gegg walks loaded the bases.
Ziegler, whose walk-off single against De Soto rescued the Raiders one day earlier, hesitated out of the batter’s box on a slow tapper near the third-base line, and was alertly thrown out by Morganthaler.
A complete-game shutout by Donze against Potosi and a first-round bye afforded Ste. Gen. numerous starting options. Although Gegg was handed the ball, Morganthaler relieved and yielded no hits while facing nine batters.
“I think we really showed our resiliency today,” Morganthaler said. “We’re not going to give up, even if we’re down by three or four runs.”
Seastrand struggled with command at times while obtaining four outs, and walked Sam Stolzer in the home half of the sixth before Dunn entered the game.
Clayton Chandler leaped behind the dish to somehow stab an elevated delivery, then assisted during a crucial sequence as Stolzer strayed into a rundown and was tagged out.
Ste. Genevieve initially jumped ahead 2-0 in the second inning when Ziegler appeared to misread a routine fly ball that turned into a two-RBI double for Staffen.
The Raiders (15-10-1) countered with three runs in the third as five straight hitters reached base with one out. Kekec spurred the comeback as the lone North County player with multiple hits.
Poorman was walked intentionally to load the bases after Hubbard singled, and Ziegler was plunked in the hip to force in the first run.
Lee helped his own cause next with a go-ahead, two-run single to right-center before stealing second.
“That entire game was just back and forth, back and forth, and then we were able to pull it out and won more innings than they did,” Brady Boyer said. “It ultimately led to us winning our first district championship in six years.”
Both teams stranded two runners in the opening frame. Poorman singled and walked twice in his high school farewell, and was involved in five defensive putouts over the first two innings.
“The love for baseball continues to boil inside of me,” said Poorman, who will play next season at Three Rivers College. “It was just their night. The chips fell their way. Hats off to them. One of the best teams I’ve played against, and we battled them. I’m so proud of our young guys.”
North County head coach Chris McLain will leave the program and return to his hometown of Senath, Mo. next season. He guided the Raiders to a district crown in 2016.
“Definitely a tough loss today. I thought it was a hard-fought game by both teams. Just an excellent high school ballgame,” McLain said. “In the end, somebody has to walk away a winner.
“People don’t realize how tough it is to get to this point and play for a district championship. This one hurts. It’s one that [our players] will remember for a long time.”
The Dragons won their eighth in a row.