May 20—SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — On a dreary, rainy day, Joplin's baseball team shined brightly.
Kohl Cooper pitched six strong innings, and Ethan Guilford's bases-loaded double capped a six-run third inning as the Eagles knocked off top-seeded Kickapoo 7-1 Wednesday afternoon in a Class 6 District 6 semifinal game at Central Park.
The fifth-seeded Eagles (20-10), who also won 7-1 in their quarterfinal game against Lebanon, face second-seeded Republic in the championship game at 5 p.m. Thursday. Republic, which ousted sixth-seeded Ozark 6-3, beat Joplin 5-3 on April 29.
The Joplin-Kickapoo game, moved up 3 1/2 hours in an attempt to avoid rain, was played in a steady drizzle that increased in the middle innings. It finally stopped as Kickapoo (24-9) came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning.
"(Conditions) were horrible," Cooper said. "You just got to do what you got to do. Throwing balls balls back and forth (to exchange for a dry ball) non-stop throughout the game, but we got it done. That's all that matters."
Cooper, a left-hander, certainly got it done. He gave up four hits through six innings and struck out five batters — two after the Chiefs loaded the bases with one out in the third inning. He left after yielding Boone Shevey's double down the left-field line with one out in the seventh inning.
"At first my curveball was working pretty well for me," Cooper said. "And then the water started getting on the ball. The fastball spotting was pretty well. My velocity was all right throughout and pretty consistent for me."
"I can't say enough about the effort that he gave," Eagles coach Kyle Wolf said. "I felt if he had his stuff and was competing in the zone, he would give us a chance to beat those guys ... and then to do it in these conditions. I was ready to pull him going into the seventh, and he told me 'Coach, I can go.' After the effort he gave, he deserved that opportunity."
Josh Harryman entered and gave up a walk and two singles — the second by Cole Murrell to drive in a run — before retiring the next two batters on a strikeout and line drive to second baseman Bodee Carlson, who dived to his left to make the catch.
An unearned run in the second inning gave the Eagles a 1-0 lead before they broke it open with six runs in the third, rapping six of their 10 hits.
Carlson singled to right to lead off the inning, and Carson Wampler reached on a fielder's choice when a throw to second base was high. With one out Alex Curry singled to center to score Carlson, and David Fiscus reached on an error allowing Wampler to score. Justin McReynolds singled to left to score Curry, and Fielding Campbell singled to center to load the bases.
Guilford promptly cleared the bases with his double down the right-field line, increasing the score to 7-0.
"I was on a first-pitch fastball," Guilford said. "I got that fastball, an outer-half fastball and took that way ... a big moment for our team. Getting that extra run support, that gives the team confidence, especially Kohl. It gives him all the confidence with a seven-run lead instead of a four-run lead."
"That was a big relief in my mind," Cooper said. "That's what we talk about all year, having insurance for the pitchers. Against a good team like that, that's amazing."
"We've talked all year about not trying to do more than what the situation asks for," Wolf said. "I thought that inning, there was a lot of that. We worked some really good at-bats, found our way to first, had a couple of clutch hits. and then Ethan steps up and takes the ball backside, a bases-clearing double. That's a huge hit in that situation."
Before Joplin got on the scoreboard, its defense came up big in the first inning.
A walk and single put Kickapoo runners at first and third with one out, but Cooper retired Luke Quackenbush on a double play from Carlson to shortstop Fielding to first baseman Curry to end the inning.
"You get out of that situation defensively, that's a lot of momentum that goes our way and it deflates them just a little bit," Wolf said. "That was a critical, critical moment in that game. ... We talk about make sure you get one (out), and we got two. That was a really big play."
McReynolds had two singles and a double to lead the Eagles, and Curry and Guilford both had two hits.
Follow Sports Editor Jim Henry on Twitter at @Jim_Henry53.