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Advancing to the state championship, SC baseball beats tied for top-ranked Portageville

by Robby Campbell | June 1, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
South Callaway's Ryan Lepper gets ready to hit a pitch from Portageville starter Donney Benthal. Ryan Lepper hit an RBI single in the at-bat. (Fulton Sun/Robby Campbell)

OZARK, Mo. -- Using two pitchers who hadn't thrown during postseason and plating all nine of their runs in the fifth, the South Callaway Bulldogs advanced to the state championship for the first time since 2017.

Taking on the top-ranked Portageville Bulldogs, fifth-ranked South Callaway prevailed 9-4 in the Class 3 state semifinals Wednesday morning at Sky Bacon Stadium.

South Callaway (24-7) advances to face eighth-ranked Licking (26-6) in the state championship game at 1 p.m. today. Licking defeated Barstow 4-1 in Tuesday's second semifinal game.

"You gotta keep doing what we've been doing," South Callaway coach Heath Lepper said. "Hopefully, we score in more than just one inning tomorrow, but if that one inning is nine runs, we like our chances."

Portageville started ace pitcher Donney Benthal, while South Callaway went with Dane Daugherty on the mound.

The latter choice paid off as Daugherty earned the win. Making his first pitching appearance since South Callaway's final regular-season game May 10, Daugherty allowed four runs -- all earned, including three in the seventh inning -- on three hits, seven walks and a hit by pitch while striking out one.

"I was really happy about it until like the seventh inning -- I lost the zone -- but other than that, I felt pretty good," Daugherty said.

"He just matched up well with their hitters from what we've seen," Lepper said on choosing to start Daugherty. "He's got three or four offspeed pitches that he likes to play with a little bit.

"The plan coming in was to keep them off balance a little bit, keep them out on their front foot. We've got a big ballpark, wind blowing in. So anything that got up in the air, we've got a pretty good outfield; we're pretty confident we can track some balls down."

South Callaway needed Daugherty's stellar pitching early on since it had two runners in scoring position before the fifth inning, one in the first and one in the third.

With runners on first and second base and no outs in the top of the third, Ryan Lepper lined out to second before Portageville finished a 4-6-3 triple play to keep South Callaway off the scoreboard.

Two innings later, South Callaway had runners on first and second for the first time since the triple play, and it answered the bell.

Tying the contest at 1, Daugherty laid down a sacrifice bunt in front of the pitcher, then reached first when the ball hit his helmet and went past first base, sending home courtesy runner Jacob Boese.

After Portageville gave Jacob Martin his second free pass -- also hit by a pitch once -- to load the bases, South Callaway took the lead as Ryan Lepper found a hole in shallow right-center field for an RBI single.

Keeping it going, Owen Rees -- tied with Ryan Lepper for a team-high 28 RBI heading into the contest -- drilled a two-run base hit to center. Then, Ethan Edwards drove in Rees from second on his slap single up the middle.

Capping the streak of four run-scoring at-bats, Tucker Jones slapped a two-RBI single over the second baseman's head as courtesy runner Kolton Adrian slid head first into home, just beating the tag for the second run.

"You got a freshman that scores from second; base hit hustling his butt off, bang-bang play," Heath Lepper said.

Already up 7-1, South Callaway concluded its scoring in the pivotal fifth when Jones and Braden Allen made it home as JT Thomas reached first on a throwing error by the third baseman. Portageville struck out the next batter to end the frame.

Pleased with its team leading 9-1, South Callaway's fans stood up and cheered after the top of the fifth ended.

"I think there's four or five guys in the lineup today that just scorched the ball, and their fielder didn't have to move," Heath Lepper said. "You tell them to stay the course, keep barrelling it up, and you'll find a hole. You look at that fifth inning; we found a lot of holes."

Portageville went up first on Jayquan Bogan's seeing-eye single in the second.

Attempting to come back, Portageville plated three runs in the seventh: Conner Johnson scored on William Warren's one-out fielder's choice to short, and Benthal roped a two-out, two-RBI double to the left field wall.

Benthal took the loss for Portageville, allowing nine runs (six earned) on eight hits and three walks while striking out two in 4⅓ innings.

Ethan Edwards allowed Benthal's run-scoring two-bagger, but the South Callaway reliever was lights out aside from that.

Making his first pitching appearance this postseason, Edwards closed the door, allowing no runs on a hit and struck one out in one inning.

"You got a sophomore that gets to go out there and close out a semifinal in a state Final Four. That's big, and hopefully, they remember that for a long, long time," Heath Lepper said.

Edwards tied Ryan Lepper for a team-high two hits -- Ryan Lepper's double in the sixth was South Callaway's only extra-base hit. Rees and Jones tallied a team-high two RBI each.

South Callaway outhit Portageville 9-4 and only made one error to its opponent's four.

Portageville (34-3) will play Barstow (23-7) -- which is receiving votes in the Class 3 state rankings -- in the third-place game at 10 a.m. today.

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