No. 5 SC baseball takes second at state, falls to No. 8 Licking

South Callaway's team poses for a photo with their second-place medals and trophy after falling to Licking in the Class 3 championship Thursday at Sky Bacon Stadium in Ozark. The Bulldogs made their third state appearance in seven years (six seasons). (Courtesy/Shawley Photography)
South Callaway's team poses for a photo with their second-place medals and trophy after falling to Licking in the Class 3 championship Thursday at Sky Bacon Stadium in Ozark. The Bulldogs made their third state appearance in seven years (six seasons). (Courtesy/Shawley Photography)

OZARK -- The South Callaway Bulldogs outhit the Licking Wildcats 5-3, but they committed their two errors in the second when the Licking Wildcats plated all three of their runs.

A result short of the championship trophy, fifth-ranked South Callaway fell 3-1 to eighth-ranked Licking in the Class 3 state championship Thursday afternoon at Sky Bacon Stadium.

While the loss may have been upsetting, Bulldogs fans witnessed Jacob Martin's third complete game this postseason -- in the last outing of his high school career.

Martin kept South Callaway in the game, allowing no earned runs on three hits (no extra-base hits), a walk and three hit by pitches while striking out two in seven innings; the Bulldog threw 100 pitches, 61 for strikes.

"He did what he needed to do," South Callaway coach Heath Lepper said. "We played a little better behind him, but again, that's baseball, and he has worked out of those spots before. And he did today."

South Callaway faithful also saw some more scrappy baserunning by the Bulldogs.

Leading up to that excellent baserunning, South Callaway's Tucker Jones slapped a two-out opposite-field single down the right-field line.

Epitomizing the smart baserunning Bulldogs coach Heath Lepper taught his players, Jones went from first to third on a wild pitch to the backstop on the first base side. Jones barely made it into third, sliding safely leg first on a bang-bang play.

"Shows you how scrappy these guys can be when they decided they want to turn it on a bit," Heath Lepper said.

Knowing he had a teammate 90 feet from home, Braden Allen capitalized on it, sending Jones home on a single to shallow right.

That would be it for South Callaway's run-scoring, and its horrid second in the field ended up being the dagger.

During the second, Licking put its first two runners on when shortstop Ryan Lepper made back-to-back fundamental fielding errors.

Then, Martin hit the next two Wildcats, scoring one on the second hit by pitch.

Those four forgetful plays preceded the only multi-run scoring at-bat of the game. Licking's Cole Wallace smoked a two-RBI single in front of the right fielder, amping up the Wildcats' packed section of fans.

"Yesterday, we took advantage of some things like that and scored a lot of runs in one inning," Heath Lepper said. "And today, we had somebody else take advantage of some of those things and blitz runs on board that did cost us.

"That's baseball. I told them out there in our last huddle, 'It's not about what happens to you, but how you react to it.'"

The Bulldogs silenced Licking's supporters, and Ryan Lepper responded from his mistakes by starting a 6-3 double play to end the frame.

South Callaway had a flawless fielding game after the second, while Ryan Lepper made back-to-back highlight-reel defensive plays.

It may have recorded only one out this time, but Ryan Lepper one-upped himself with the play, snagging a hard-hit line drive hit by Licking No. 3 hitter Malachi Antle for the first out of the third.

The Bulldogs' fielding may have been better while Martin maintained his dominance on the mound, but they couldn't get a rally going. South Callaway's only multi-hit frame of the contest was in the fourth when it plated its only run.

"We tried turning it in on a couple of times in this game, and we just didn't get the production," Heath Lepper said. "We would get something started, and then we fly out."

Wildcats starter Kellar Davis was the main individual responsible for preventing Bulldogs rallies.

Earning the complete-game victory, Davis allowed one earned run on five hits and a walk while punching out eight in seven innings; he threw 89 pitches, 64 for strikes.

Licking snapped South Callaway's five-game winning streak and handed the Bulldogs their first meaningful loss of the season -- SC went undefeated in the Show-Me Conference.

"They're here for a reason; they're a great ballclub," Heath Lepper said. "Harv Antle, head coach over there, he's been in the game for a long time. He's been knocking on this door for years and years since he won one down in Iberia."

Class 1 state champion St. Elizabeth handed South Callaway its last loss before the state championship, beating the Bulldogs 8-7 in a nonconference, added matchup on May 10.

Speaking of St. Elizabeth and South Callaway, they made it back-to-back seasons with two Show-Me teams reaching baseball state championships.

"It shows you how greedy we are," Heath Lepper said. "I think St. E superintendent Doug Sweeney brought it up yesterday just how many state championships and Final Four appearances have come out of the Show-Me Conference.

"It'll be a shame whenever it disbands here in about two years because it's probably one of the, if not the toughest, conference in Central Missouri as far as baseball is concerned."

Additionally, South Callaway joined Fulton as the first Callaway County team sports teams since 2016 to advance to state in the same sport in the same season. The Bulldogs and Hornets baseball teams were the two to reach state in 2016, too.

"You love the atmosphere," Heath Lepper said. "You got kids from two different schools that live five minutes apart, rooting each other on. And it's nice to see, and I'm happy for both teams."

State title or not, Heath Lepper emphasized the memories South Callaway made in its time at state.

"You look at the community support; this is what sports is all about; this is what high school sports is all about right here, right?" Heath Lepper said. "You get to play on a big stage; you get your community behind you. Win or lose; you can't take the experience away from them."

photo South Callaway's Jacob Martin hurls a pitch to the plate in the Class 3 championship game against Licking Thursday at Sky Bacon Stadium. In the final game of his high school career, Martin allowed three hits and took the complete-game loss. (Courtesy/Shawley Photography)