Barely 24 hours after its most exciting victory of the season – a win over two-time defending Class 4 state champion Aurora in the district semifinals – the Hollister High School baseball team found itself on the other end of the spectrum on Tuesday night.
The Tigers watched as Springfield Catholic celebrated the Class 4 District 11 championship at Tiger Field, with a 6-3 victory.
The loss ended Hollister’s season, stopped a seven-game winning streak and left the Tigers with a 17-10 overall record in the first season under coach Trent Oxenreider.
“It’s hard, and I hate those speeches,” Oxenreider said after visiting with his team in an emotional locker room scene.
“I just told them, we made a lot of people believe in us, when a lot of people probably thought we were a year or two away from doing something. We made people believe that we can compete and achieve some things.”
Hollister entered the six-team district as the fifth seed, advancing to the finals with a 4-1 victory over fourth seed Bolivar, then the semifinal stunner over Aurora, the top-ranked team in the state in Class 4.
The Tigers faced No. 3 Springfield Catholic – and Will Duff, the pitching ace for the Fightin’ Irish who has signed to play at Vanderbilt University – in the finals, and touched him for three runs, including a two-run home run from Logan Armitage in the third inning.
That tied the game at 2 and provided the Tigers with a spark.
But Catholic scored a run in the home half of the third, added two in the fourth and another in the fifth to pull away.
“This is tough,” Oxenreider said. “You lose a district after you battle like this, as the five seed, and a roller-coaster of a year, a very successful year.
“It hurts those kids, they’re that close. We had opportunities, the difference tonight is we just weren’t able to come through in those times.”
The Irish (18-8) advance to the Class 4 sectional round, where they will host Monett on Tuesday afternoon.
The Tigers had their opportunities, finishing with seven hits and adding four walks, two hit-batsmen and two hitters reaching on errors.
Hollister stranded Layton Morgan on first base with a two-out single in the first, then rallied with two outs in the third.
Avery Weber reached on a one-out error, then after a flyout, Armitage turned on a Duff offering and deposited it over the left-field fence for a two-run home run and a 2-all tie.
Morgan followed with an infield single, with Landon Richards and Garrett Moody walking to load the bases.
Duff ended the inning with a ground-ball fielder’s choice.
Colby Teaster singled to open the fourth, and a Konner Hatfield walk put runners on the corners with two outs in the fourth. But a caught stealing ended the threat.
Hollister’s other run scored in the fifth, when Armitage doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a Morgan single. A pair of hit-batsmen followed, but a pickoff play and double play ended the inning.
Teaster led off the sixth with a single, and Hatfield later walked, but both were stranded on base. Morgan led off the seventh by reaching on an error, but Irish reliever Colin Davis induced a flyout and double-play grounder to end the game.
“A couple breaks didn’t go our way, we didn’t make a play when we needed to, things like that,” Oxenreider said. “I certainly don’t think we played bad, we just made a couple of mistakes in spots, more mentally than we have done in a while.”
The loss marked the end of the line for five Hollister seniors, but the young Tigers figure to get a boost from the experience.
Hollister’s starting lineup in the district finals included three seniors and six sophomores.
“That fire should be lit, after a season like this,” Oxenreider said.
“When you get that close and you can taste something very special, to lose it truly stinks.”