ASHLAND -- The Fulton Hornets were buzzing after they won their first district title in seven years (six seasons).
Forgetting what seed it was, No. 5 seed Fulton completed a sweep of upsets in the Class 4 District 8 tournament, taking down the No. 3 seed Fatima Comets 1-0 in Tuesday's championship game at Southern Boone High School.
With Fatima unable to throw all-state pitcher Max Buscher, who pitched Monday and was ineligible due to MSHSAA's pitch count rule, Fulton had the luxury of throwing its ace Dusty Hagens, who had already thrown two gems at Southern Boone this season.
They say the third time is the charm, but for the Hornets' Hagens, the third time was the third charm, as he remained dominant in Southern Boone.
In 6⅔ innings, Hagens threw 108 pitches, 67 strikes and allowed no runs on a hit and three walks while striking out 12 -- his season-high in punch-outs.
"He's just a beast," Fulton coach Jacob Lorentzen said. "He's on three days rest from pitching our first game and throwing a gem for us there too. He wants the baseball, and it was his game 100% of the way. He's been craving for this for four years of, well, three years with the COVID year of varsity baseball, so he deserves it."
Another pattern in Fulton's district championship run happened as well -- for the second game in as many days, the Hornets took the lead in the sixth.
An unsung hero drove in the Hornets' winning run in the sixth, freshman Ben Leslie. Pinch-hitting for Tyler Arthur, Leslie provided a devasting sting to the Comets, sending Wyatt Wilfley -- recorded a leadoff single for Fulton's lone hit -- home on his sacrifice fly to right.
"That kid's been really great," Lorentzen said. "He kind of got tossed into a role when we had some guys out, and he shined. We said before we came out here that a guy in scoring position this is the guy we want at the plate -- freshmen or not. And he gets that opportunity. And he laced one to right field. That's big; that kid's got good things to come."
Before the sixth, Fatima registered the only hit with Easton Stuckenschneider's one-out slap single up the middle in the bottom of the fourth. The Comets were unable to get Stuckenschnieder into scoring position, though.
While Fatima tallied the contest's only hit before the sixth, Fulton had the only runner in scoring position then.
That happened in the top of the fourth when Ethan Burt made it to third after receiving a free pass to lead off the inning. Burt made it to second when Ethan Milius grounded out to third during the next at-bat, then to third on Arthur's drop third strike.
Comets starter Noah Jaegers sent Hagens packing to strand Burt at third in the fourth.
Jaegers's outing for Fatima ended after the fourth. The senior did all he could to keep his high school career alive, allowing no runs on no hits and a walk while striking out three.
Two years younger than Jaegers, the Comets' Brody Kleffner took the mound in the fifth. He punched out the first two he faced, then walked one before forcing a groundout to second to end the frame.
Kleffner then gave up the contest's only run in the sixth, taking the loss for Fatima. The Comets kept Kleffner on the mound to start the seventh, however.
Facing two batters, Fatima's Kleffner walked both and was replaced by Jack Robertson.
The Comets' Robertson loaded the pads, hitting the first batter he faced. But Robertson dominantly regrouped, getting three straight outs, including two strikeouts, to end the seventh.
Fulton's Hagens started the bottom half of the seventh with two strikeouts before his outing ended, and Milius -- who started the regular season meeting against Fatima -- came in.
Milius nearly made it a combined effort in striking out the side but walked the first hitter he faced on a 3-2 count.
It didn't matter if Milius walked the first batter he faced, as he had his fielders backing him up.
Fatima's Graham Boeckmann put a ball in play to second. Fulton's second baseman Wilfley went toward second base but headed back right toward the ball and made a pinpoint throw to first baseman Aaron Corey for the final out.
Hornets fans bounced up and down, screaming and shouting, and Fulton's players swarmed the field, celebrating their historic triumph.
Before the postseason started, the Hornets finished one of their best-ever regular seasons, winning the North Central Missouri Conference outright for the first time and the Fulton Tournament for the fourth "confirmed" time.
Come districts, Fulton (17-8) ended two of last season's state champions' seasons (Class 3 Tolton, Class 4 Southern Boone), then beat Fatima (15-16), who it lost to 12-0 in the regular season.
This happened under first-year coach Lorentzen, making this fairytale sound like a myth, but it was reality.
"It's huge," Lorentzen said. "I've waited a long time for this job. I was the assistant coach for the last team when we went to state. I've just been wanting this helm for a long time. And I have a great group of kids that are making me look really good right now with almost every decision that I make. I give all the credit to those guys for battling it out, 100%."
Beating the Comets was redemption for Fulton's players on the boys basketball team. Fatima cut Fulton boys basketball's postseason short this season, winning 75-52 versus the Hornets in the district semifinals at the Comets' gym.
Three prominent players on Fulton's baseball and boys basketball teams shared their thoughts on avenging their loss to the Comets.
Starting with Walker Gohring, who led the Hornets boys basketball team and drove in the game-deciding runs to beat Southern Boone in the baseball district semifinals Monday.
"In my opinion, basketball is my favorite sport, so it hurt pretty bad when they ended that," Gohring said. "But this season, we've had a lot of ups and downs. Coming into the night, we were a lot of confidence beating the last team we played. So we had our ace on the mound. As a team, we all played good. We all were behind him on the mound. It means a lot. Just gotta keep it going; we're on a hot streak."
Hagens, who started for boys basketball team, but admitted himself he's more of a baseball player, showed that by earning the win in two of the Hornets' three district games this season.
"Kinda backing up what Walker said, basketball is not my sport -- baseball is," Hagens said. "But to lace up your shoes for the last time for any sport is tough, especially at this level, not knowing that you're ever gonna play that sport. And I think with basketball, them ending our season right there and coming out here and beating them, it felt good to know that now we're on top, and we need to keep going."
A sophomore, Milius, who could be talked about like Gorhing and Hagens in the next couple of years, shared what it meant to end Fatima's baseball season after it did so for Fulton's boys basketball campaign.
"I'd have to agree with Dusty; baseball is my favorite sport," Milius said. "But basketball is just as important. I'm going to put whatever I'm playing; that's going to be my first priority. Them ending our season this year for basketball; it hurt a lot of us. And to know that we came out today and we did our best and we were on top, that's just backing everybody up that was on the basketball team. Helping out everybody."
Those three and the rest of Fulton's team have their mind set on sectionals next.
Fulton has six days to prepare for Tuesday's Class 4 Sectional 4 game at the District 7 champion. The Hornets will face either Mexico (10-18) or Macon (21-6) in the sectional matchup; Fulton has beaten Mexico three times and Macon once while not losing to either this season.
"Whatever we get, we've at least put one good game against them," Lorentzen said. "We know with the break that we will have everyone that you get everyone's best again. So it's going to be tough no matter who we play. We'll put it out there again. And if it's a one-run victory again, then we'll take it."