The Branson High School baseball team has an optimistic view going into the postseason.
Very optimistic, considering the Pirates will take a 6-18 overall record going into the Class 5 District 10 Tournament, starting Saturday at Springfield Parkview High School.
It is the way Branson has grown this season that leads to some positive thoughts as the Pirates head into Saturday’s opening-round game against Ozark.
Branson had some ugly outings, including a 20-1 loss to Webb City and a 14-3 defeat at the hands of Willard, early this spring.
But since that Willard game on April 3, Branson has been competitive, playing in a string of one-run and extra-inning games against some of the stronger competition on its schedule.
That includes a 5-2 loss to Ozark, a 2-1 loss to Class 5 District 10 top seed Springfield Glendale, a 5-4 loss in a rematch with Webb City, and a 6-2 loss in 10 innings to Carthage on Tuesday night.
“From where we were at Week 1, if you had told me a month-and-a-half ago that we’d be playing one-run games now, we’d have taken it,” Branson coach Troy Nimmo said. “But then after you get a couple of one-run games, then you realize how close you are.
“We’ve faced a lot of good pitchers – we faced nine Division I pitchers this year, and two of them are draft picks. That’s not an easy task, and to play them a one-run ballgame, it says a lot about the fight in them.”
The Pirates and Carthage battled for 10 innings on Tuesday, with the Tigers scoring four runs in the 10th, on four hits, two walks and a hit-batsman.
Carthage opened the scoring in the first inning, when Trason Vogt walked, went to third base on an errant pickoff throw and stole home. Another run came home in the fifth, with a leadoff single from Will McCombs, then Tucker Downing laying down a perfect bunt that hugged the third-base line and stayed fair.
A Vogt single loaded the bases with none out, and the only run scored on an Ian O’Malley sacrifice fly.
Branson struck in the second inning, when Sam Lemley singled to lead off the frame, went to second base on a sacrifice bunt, advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and scored when Carter Jenkins was caught in a rundown between first and second base.
The Pirates tied the game at 2 and forced extra innings in the sixth, with Jackson Miller walking, going to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a Graham Funderburk single.
It appeared Branson was in line to win the game in the seventh, but Carthage made a key defensive play to keep the game tied.
Chance Mobley singled to start the inning, went to second base on a sacrifice bunt, and after a Jenkins flyout, Brady Brashers lined a single to left field.
Mobley got the green light from Nimmo all the way, but the throw home from Zeke Sappington arrived in time for the third out of the inning.
“We had a couple chances there,” Nimmo said, also referencing some opportunities to bunt for hits that were not able to be put down in the preferred location.
Branson was able to get only one runner on base in the three extra innings, with Kelly Henson reaching on an eighth-inning error. He was stranded on second base.
Vogt – the second Carthage pitcher of the day and the Tigers’ ace – worked three hitless innings, retiring nine of the 10 hitters he faced and striking out seven. He fanned the final five Branson hitters to end the game.
“We hit some balls hard, and then they brought the lefty in at the end, in a tight game,” Nimmo said. “They brought him in, and runs are tough to come by then.”
The loss spoiled a strong pitching performance for the Pirates. Funderburk started and worked four innings, giving up two hits and striking out five. Brashers came on and worked four innings, yielding one run on four hits.
Even with the loss, it’s been a season full of growth for the young Pirates.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Nimmo said. “It’s been 5-4, 3-2, 2-1, with some of the top teams in the state.
“We’ve been right there with them, and just missing that one hit when we get somebody in scoring position.”
The winner of the 2 p.m. Branson-Ozark district game will play Springfield Glendale in Monday’s 4 p.m. semifinal game. The other semifinal will match the winners of the first-round games between Nixa and Springfield Parkview, against the winner of the West Plains and Springfield Kickapoo game.
The championship game is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“I’m hoping once we get to districts, the baseball gods will be on our side,” Nimmo said. “We have been on the wrong side of that for the last 3½ weeks. We can win it, I really think we can. We’re set where we need to be for districts.
“The kids are confident that they can win. A lot of times, when your record is what it is, it’s easy for them to get down. But they have not quit.”