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South Callaway baseball secures Callaway Cup bragging rights, stays undefeated

by Robby Campbell | March 23, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
The South Callaway team cheer on Braden Allen after he hit a home run against North Callaway Wednesday at South Callaway's baseball field in Mokane. (Mexico Ledger/Jeremy Jacob)

MOKANE -- Callaway County is blue after the South Callaway Bulldogs kept their unbeaten run going by scoring in all but one frame en route to beating the North Callaway Thunderbirds.

Playing its third game in as many days, South Callaway won 12-4 against its biggest rival/district opponent North Callaway Wednesday at South Callaway's baseball field.

The telling statistic in the result was the Bulldogs scoring six runs off three Thunderbirds errors, and South Callaway's fielders didn't make a single error while North Callaway committed six.

"A lot of guys have that saying, 'Defense wins ball games,'" South Callaway coach Heath Lepper said. "If you don't let the other team score, then all you got to do is come up with one (run), so all the guys were locked in tonight.

"We're glad to see after third game in three days, and yesterday wasn't the best of conditions. So having them come out, have them focused offensively and defensively is huge."

It may sound like everything was fine and dandy for the Bulldogs, but it wasn't initially. North Callaway applied the pressure early, scoring three of its four runs in the top of the first.

Future Columbia College Cougar -- Braydn O'Neal -- started the scoring for the T-Birds with an RBI double to right-center, which plated Keaton Bell, who hit a leadoff single.

"Braydn (O'Neal) kind of makes us go; he's gonna do that a lot for us, hopefully," North Callaway coach Zeth Lavy said. "It's nice to early on get it going. I thought pregame we were a little bit not quite ready to go."

Making it back-to-back scoring plays, North Callaway's Davis Woods gave himself run support by driving O'Neal home from second on an RBI single to right field. Then, with two outs, Woods's battery mate, Carter Moore, brought him home with a run-scoring single to shallow right-center.

That capped the scoring in the frame; the Thunderbirds were the first team to score in the first against the Bulldogs this season. South Callaway's first two opponents didn't get on the board until the fifth inning.

"It was nice, especially after our jamboree; we're kind of slow offensively," Lavy said. "It's good to get a fast start, guys being aggressive early in counts, put the ball in play and get some base runners moving around early on."

South Callaway didn't want to be outdone at home against its fierce rival, with a packed house and the best weather up to this early point in the season. To fix that issue, the Bulldogs sent four runners home in the bottom half of the first to take a 4-3 advantage -- South Callaway stayed on top of the remainder of the contest.

After the Bulldogs started the frame with back-to-back singles, those two players reached home as Owen Rees advanced to first on Sam Pezold's throwing error to the Thunderbirds' first baseman.

North Callaway made another two errors during the next two at-bats, with the latter scoring one to tie the game at 3-3.

Two batters later, South Callaway scored its first run that wasn't off a North Callaway error. Tucker Jones made that happen, smacking an RBI double to right-center after sliding head-first safely into second.

Neither team scored in the second, but South Callaway ended the short run-scoring drought with a bang.

Braden Allen banged a first pitch two-out home run over the wall in left field (roughly 325 feet) to extend South Callaway's lead to 5-3. It was the Bulldogs' second homer this season and their first since the season opener against Centralia Monday.

North Callaway answered in the next frame, scoring with two outs as well. Matthew Weber drove home a run on an RBI double to deep right-center to narrow the Thunderbirds' deficit to one, 5-4.

The Thunderbirds had thoughts of a comeback after that play, but South Callaway scored in each of its final three innings at the plate, plating seven runs in that time.

In the fourth, the Bulldogs tacked on two runs on an error by North Callaway's right fielder. Then, in the fifth, South Callaway's Dane Daugherty sent two home on a single past short, and Ryan Lepper added one more run on a single to shallow left-center.

Concluding the scoring, South Callaway earned its final two runs on North Callaway's last error, which was made by the Thunderbirds' first baseman trying to catch a ball hit to second by Jones.

With 16 runs scored between the teams, it may seem like neither team pitched well. However, Lepper -- who pitched the final three innings for South Callaway -- struck out the side on 11 pitches in his first inning and didn't allow a hit while walking just one and K'ing four total.

Daugherty earned the victory for the Bulldogs, though. The Bulldog went four innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits and no walks while striking out three.

Meanwhile, North Callaway also had a solid performance from a reliever. That pitcher was Pezold, who pitched one inning, allowing two unearned runs on no hits or walks while striking out two.

Woods, the Thunderbirds' ace, didn't have his best game. The senior tossed one inning, allowing four runs (two earned) on four hits and a walk while striking out one.

When it was all said and done, South Callaway played consistently well, using its advantage of playing two games over the previous two days to its favor.

"In the regular season, there's never a must-win," Lepper said. "But there are some you sure would like to win, and this is definitely one of them."

Next, South Callaway (3-0) will play its pool play games in the 2023 Borgia/Union Bank Classic, facing the Lutheran St. Charles Cougars (0-4) at 2 p.m. and the host Union Wildcats (2-0) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in Union. The tournament will be the Class 3 Bulldogs' toughest test thus far, as all the other teams are either Class 4 or 5 schools.

"The last three teams that we played, they're all good opponents," Lepper said. "Anytime you get to get to go to Union and Borgia. You get to play Lutheran St. Charles, and they've got somebody new coming in. Jeff(erson) City was in it last year. We got to play them twice.

"You get to go play some of those Class 5; Class 6's. They just add a different component to the game. They've got some POs, and that's all their job is focused on. Our hitters have to be more focused than usual, right? They've got some pitchers that can throw 85, in the upper 80s, with good stuff to go with it."

North Callaway (0-1) also has a challenge ahead of it when the Thunderbirds host the Class 4 Hallsville Indians (2-0) for their home opener at 5 p.m. Thursday in Auxvasse. While Hallsville may be a formidable opponent, North Callaway beat the Indians 16-2 in the Versailles/California Turf War last season.

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