The College of the Ozarks Baseball Bobcats went back to work Monday morning in the NCCAA World Series. Having gone 2-1 in the first two days, The Bobcats had already avoided elimination once and looked to remain alive to advance to the final four.
Tyler Buchanan was tasked with the pitching duties and while the Bobcats had played one more game than their opponent, the Southwestern Assemblies of God University Lions, the Coaching staff had managed to preserve the pitching staff. They were in a good position with pitching for the final rounds. Having lost to SAGU in the second round of the tournament, the Bobcats went into the game knowing they were only a play or two away from the result being reversed. Optimism was in the air and the goal of advancing to the final four was in the forefront.
The Bobcats went quietly in the first inning and the Lions came to bat hoping to strike first. They did just that on a leadoff walk and a double to left. Buchanan was able to limit the damage to just a single run and the Bobcats came up in the second trailing 1-0. Caleb Johnson started things off with a single and Rhett Hill followed with a single of his own. A fielder’s choice moved Johnson to third and put Titus Atkins at first with two outs. A perfectly executed double steal allowed Atkins to move to second and Caleb Johnson slid home to tie the game, 1-1. The next Bobcat batter was retired, and the game moved to the bottom of the second. The Lions answered in the bottom half using a Bobcat error and a pair of singles to push a run across and regain the lead, 2-1. Both teams went quietly in the third and Caleb Johnson tried to boost the Bobcat offense, ripping a one-out double, in the top of the fourth. A ground out advanced Johnson to third and Rhett Hill came through with an RBI single to score Johnson and tie the game. That’s all the Bobcats would get, and Buchanan went back to the bump. The Lions again responded and took the lead back with back-to-back doubles for a 3-2 advantage. Another consecutive double plated another run and Buchanan had hit a speed bump in the bottom of the fourth. A ground ball up the middle took a 90 degree turn off the fringe of the mound and ended up in left field for a two-out single. Another Lion run scored and Colin Pyatt came on to pitch in relief. Pyatt recorded the final out and the Bobcats came to bat trailing 5-2. A one out Isaiah Smith double got the offense going in the top of the fifth and Chuck Hill followed with a single. Ryan Daggs came through with an RBI single and the Bobcats cut the lead to 5-3. A Spencer Green ground out drove in another run and the deficit was 5-4 heading to the bottom of the fifth. All bats were silent until the bottom of the sixth when SAGU tacked on another pair of runs with a trio of singles. The Bobcats knew they needed to respond in order to keep the pressure on the Lions. Isaiah Smith got things started again with a double to center. Two quick outs followed, and it appeared the Bobcats would leave Smith standing at second. Spencer Greene had a different plan however, and he launched a homerun over the left field fence to cut the deficit back to one, 7-6. A Caleb Johnson walk followed the homerun, but the next out was recorded, and the Bobcats needed to hold the Lions in the bottom half of the inning. After a walk in the bottom of the eighth, Ryan Daggs came on to pitch in relief for the Bobcats. The offenses continued to be held in check and the Bobcats came to the plate in the ninth needing baserunners. Isaiah Smith reached on an error to start the ninth and Chuck Hill singled to move him to second. A Ryan Daggs RBI double scored Smith to tie the game and Hill represented the go ahead run just 90 feet away. Spencer Greene answered right on cue and ripped an RBI single to right to score Hill, giving the Bobcats an 8-7 lead. Greene was caught stealing and the next two Bobcats went down on strikes to end the top half of the inning. With their backs against the wall, SAGU responded in the bottom of the ninth with a leadoff double and a sacrifice to move the runner to third. A single scored the tying run but Daggs slammed the door shut to send the game to the tenth. The Bobcats were determined to keep the pressure on the Lions and Titus Atkins did his part and drew a one out walk. Cadan Kauffman was hit by a pitch and the Bobcats had runners at first and second with one out. Isaiah Smith picked up an RBI with a single to right and the Bobcats were back on top. That was the only run they could get, and the Lions came up under pressure once again. A leadoff triple was not a good sign for the Bobcats. A walk put runners at the corners for the Lions and a single scored the tying run. A sacrifice bunt moved the winning run to third and with one out, the Bobcats were in a tough jam. The next batter bunted down the first baseline and the winning run crossed the plate. The Bobcats had fallen 10-9 in 10 innings to the top seed Lions and their season came to a close.
The Bobcat offense was led by Caleb Johnson (2B) and Isaiah Smith (2B) with three hits each. Chuck Hill, Ryan Daggs, Spencer Greene (HR), and Rhett Hill each added a pair of hits in the loss.
The Bobcats ended their season just one win away from a final four appearance. With a lot of obstacles and difficulties along the way, the Bobcats compiled a 33-22 record and finished as NDAG Regional Champions. With a good mix of youth and experience returning next year, the Bobcats will look to build on the leadership of this year’s two seniors, Chandler Tidwell and Trenton Hyde, and continue climbing toward success in 2023.