As the bottom, No. 5 seed in a district with two state champions, the Fulton Hornets, led by first-year coach Jacob Lorentzen are the ultimate underdog story of the four Class 4 state-bound baseball teams.
For Fulton to reach state, it took two gems from ace Dusty Hagens, two game-deciding RBI from freshman pinch-hitter Ben Leslie, two winning starts from three-sport all-conference Hornet Walker Gohring -- who drove in a game-deciding run in the district semifinals -- and a come from behind victory at St. Charles West in a roughly three-hour state quarterfinal.
"It's been pretty awesome," Lorentzen said. "We seem to just do whatever is necessary to win ballgames right now.
"We've had the slugfest that was three hours ...and then we had the pitchers dual on one run that we really manufacture ourselves. So we can play a couple of different styles of baseball."
It'll be Fulton's fifth state appearance, with its last coming in 2016 when it took fourth with Lorentzen as an assistant.
So far this postseason, Fulton is outscoring opponents 24-12, scoring half its runs in its 12-9 state quarterfinal victory at St. Charles West.
Showing they have a dominant pitching staff, the Hornets allowed three runs in their postseason games before the state quarterfinals. Fulton combined to give up three runs to reigning Class 3 champion Tolton and Class 4 champion Southern Boone, then shut out Fatima in the district championship and Macon in sectionals.
Next, Fulton (19-8) will face the John Burroughs Bombers (26-3) -- second-ranked in Class 4 by the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association -- in the state semifinals at 4 p.m. today at Sky Bacon Stadium in Ozark.
The Hornets started the season 7-1 but lost six of their next seven games between April 13 and May 1. Since then, they've won 10 of their last 11, with the only loss being an 8-2 defeat to Class 3 No. 5 South Callaway on May 8 in Fulton.
Some of Fulton's memorable regular season moments were winning the North Central Missouri Conference outright for the first time and the Fulton Tournament for the fourth "confirmed" instance while earning a state-ranked victory against Class 4 No. 9 Hallsville on May 5.
"We put up a lot of incredible markers, but we got a few more to go," Lorentzen said.
John Burroughs began the state playoff by run-ruling Sullivan 10-0 in five innings in sectionals, then Bowen Brantingham threw a complete-game one-hit victory as the Bombers won 4-0 at eighth-ranked Kennett in the quarterfinals.
Griffin Barnett, the six-foot, one-inch right-handed No. 4 hitter in John Burrough's lineup, tied its No. 5 batter William Champman Jr. for a team-high two hits (it had nine as a team) in the Bombers' state quarterfinal victory at Kennett.
Before the state playoffs, Barnett batted .378 (34-for-90) with five walks, 21 RBI and four extra-base hits this season.
Out of their starters, leadoff hitter Charlie Karlovic leads the Bombers with a .403 batting average and 11 extra-base hits and is tied for a team-high two home runs.
No. 3 batter Julian Schenck has a team-high 26 RBI, tied for a team-high two home runs and is third with a .373 batting average.
"Their bats are big all the way through the lineup, but to put a guy like that at the top of your order, I can attest that that would be awful nice to have that power," Lorentzen said.
"But we're hoping that that sets the tone the other way, too. So if we can find a way to kind of harness a little bit of that and keep him down just enough that maybe that sets the tone in a good direction for us."
Brantingham -- Metro League Pitcher of the Year and an Air Force baseball commit -- leads the pitching staff, and Schenck -- the Metro League Player of the Year -- is the No. 2.
The Bombers could start Schenck or Brantingham on the bump, with Schneck being the more likely as they could save Brantingham for the potential championship game.
Schenck is 6-0, registering 54 strikeouts, 16 walks and a 1.60 ERA in 48 innings.
"It's pretty incredible, no matter who you're playing, to consistently throw those kinds of numbers up there," Lorentzen said. "But it's a ballgame; it's just one game, and that's all we got to do is figure out a way to win one."
Brantingham is 9-0 with 85 strikeouts, 16 walks, and a 1.19 ERA in 53⅓ innings.
"You got to think, 'Alright, what's the routine look like?" Lorentzen said. "Is it different, and can we find a way to exploit any weakness that we can find if there is any to have."
Lorentzen will likely pitch senior right-hander Hagens against John Burroughs.
Hagens, who will pitch next season at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has a 6-1 record this spring with 76 strikeouts and a 2.32 ERA in 51⅔ innings. His best starts this season were a six-inning no-hitter versus Eldon in the Fulton Tournament championship and a season-high 12 strikeouts in 6⅔ innings against Fatima in the district championship.
"We look for him not only as just the guy that's gonna throw innings for us, but he really sets the tone in a game for us on the bump," Lorentzen said.
Ethan Burt, a junior right-hander, has been Fulton's top reliever this postseason and could pitch in the Final Four for the Hornets. He has a 5-1 record with 34 strikeouts and a 3.50 ERA in 28 innings.
"He's a guy that's been super consistent in the postseason on some groundball outs, getting some weak contact, a lot of weak contact," Lorentzen said. "That bodes really well after you throw some guys that are maybe bumping a little faster than him."
Fulton has a team batting average of .258. The Hornets have five players who made all-district this season. In addition to Hagens and Burt, the other 2023 all-district players were Gohring, Ethan Milius and Wyatt Wilfley.
Milius is the Hornets' offensive leader, recording a team-high .348 batting average and eight extra-base hits (four doubles, four triples) in 24 games. He also has 14 RBI and 10 walks while only striking out nine times in 69 at-bats.
"He hasn't really done that well here in the postseason, and he struggled a little bit at the plate," Lorentzen said. "But his numbers are so good that he still continues to find ways to make good at-bats even when he can't get on base."
Another Ethan, Burt, has a team-high 17 RBI and 13 stolen bases for Fulton.
"His energy when he gets on the base and his speed and the things that he's able to do just really helps rally the team," Lorentzen said.
Leadoff hitter Wilfley has a .226 batting average with 19 hits, five extra-base hits (four doubles, a triple) and 14 RBI.
"He really sets the tone every game," Lorentzen said. "We know if Wyatt can put a good AB together, the first AB that the game's heading in the right direction."
No matter where Fulton has gone in its magical run, the Hornets' fans have followed while their team has done everything possible to win games.
"We've got so many people that are wanting to show up at state," Lorentzen said. "...We're not gonna let anybody down; we're gonna play two solid games, no matter what the outcome is."
The second semifinal game is at 7 p.m. today between fifth-ranked Springfield Catholic (20-7) and seventh-ranked Excelsior Springs (28-12).
Regardless of non-ranked Fulton advancing to the championship or dropping to the third-place game, it'll play two state-ranked teams at state.
"I don't think our team is scared of anybody whether they're state-ranked or not," Lorentzen said. "We know that we have a very solid team, and we're gonna push the best that we can to make sure we're playing at 7 o'clock on Thursday."
The semifinal losers will play for third place at 4 p.m. Thursday, the winners will play for a state title at 7 p.m.
"It's gonna take a full team effort," Lorentzen said regarding an improvement over Fulton's 2016 state finish.