Webb City, Willard "better" because of early May matchup

May 9—Class 5 district tournaments begin next week for high school baseball.

On Friday, May 3, Webb City topped Willard 3-1 in a competitive matchup between two of the top four teams in the state. The Cardinals were ranked fourth coming into the game, the Willard Tigers first.

It was a game that featured good pitching, few errors on defense and timely hits, including a solo home run from Shadrach Salazar to put Webb City ahead 3-1 late in the game.

Cardinals head coach Andrew Doennig said his team would have left that contest better even if it hadn't earned a win.

"That's how you build yourself for the postseason. You don't play easy games for a reason. Sometimes you lose hard games, but it makes you better in the end," Doennig said. "Regardless of the outcome, both teams got better today because of how we played each other."

Speaking of the postseason, both teams have a chance to reach the Final Four in Ozark later this month. Webb City is in District 7 while Willard is in District 6. State quarterfinals will send both teams in opposite directions if they were both to win their respective districts. And the semifinal round would also set the Central Ozark Conference opponents on opposite sides to where they could matchup in the Class 5 state championship.

"Hopefully, we get to see these guys, it would be pretty cool for two COC teams to play in the state championship," Willard head coach Scott McGee said.

Last week's contest reminded both coaches of past meetings and just how good baseball has been between the Cardinals and Tigers in recent years.

"We've had a lot of really good battles with them over the years. Had a heck of a game last year," McGee said. "There's eight or 10 of us that have a chance to win a state title in Class 5 (this year) and this is two of the teams."

Winning a title is also something the Cardinals are capable of, and Doennig said he has told his team that from day one.

"We've told our kids all year long that we have the chance to beat anybody if we play the best that we can play," Doennig said. "No wins are easy. Especially in this conference.

"We hadn't beaten them in five years. We lost to them by one run last year in a tough game."

Webb City is coming off of a fourth-place finish last season, but it has new leadership and some new names in the lineup. The whole team wants a shot to improve on last season.


Looking back at the 3-1 game Webb City won last week, there was a moment that McGee referred to as "intrigue." It was in the seventh inning with bases loaded and no one out with Willard batting.

Starter Luke Beverlin was still on the mound. This forced a tough coaching decision for Doenning. He took time and headed out to his junior left-hander.

"About one step past the line, I said: 'I'm not here to take you out.' And he said, 'Thank you,'" Doennig said.

Instead, coach was just getting some time to let his ace take a breath, collect himself and assess the situation. It worked as the next two batters hit a pop-up on the infield in foul territory and a soft liner into shallow right field that was not deep enough to score a run. Beverlin then ended the game with a strikeout.

"It's a good situation for both of us. They have a chance with bases loaded and nobody out to get stuff done. We have to play defense with the bases loaded and nobody out," Doennig said. "It's a good scenario for both of us going forward."

McGee says this showed him that his team needs to work more quality at-bats against good pitching and to get more leadoff batters on. He thought his team waited until there were one or two outs in an inning before getting a baserunner.

Doennig knows this is a statement win for his bunch coming against a team and an offense that's only been held to one run in four games this year.

"They're No. 1 in the state for a reason. They've only lost three games coming into this thing," Doennig said. "They're good every single year. They're very well coached."

The next set of rankings from the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association are to be released Friday, May 10. The Cardinals are now 21-7. The Tigers are 27-5.