Prep Baseball

Panthers unable to get past Bulldogs in sectionals yet again

Palmyra senior left-hander Jacob Kroeger delivers a pitch during Monday’s Class 3 sectional game against South Callaway at Flower City Park. Kroeger struck out six in 4 2/3 innings. | H-W Photo/Matt Schuckman
By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 21, 2019 12:10 am Updated: May. 21, 2019 12:54 am

PALMYRA, Mo. -- The way South Callaway right-hander Peyton Leeper and Palmyra left-hander Jacob Kroeger controlled the strike zone during Monday's Class 3 sectional, opportunities to score grew increasingly rare.

It's why one miscue, one close call and one swing all in the same inning loomed incredibly large.

Jared Mistler's single to left field with two outs in the bottom of the third plated Leeper with the game's only run as the Bulldogs capitalized on a unique sequence of events to earn a 1-0 victory and reach the state quarterfinals for the fifth straight season.

It's the third time in that stretch South Callaway (24-8) has beaten Palmyra in the sectionals.

It's also the fifth time in the last seven seasons the Panthers (22-5) have lost in the sectional. They're only sectional victory came in 2017 against Hallsville, and there was a feeling this season might be different, especially since the Panthers were ranked No. 1 in Class 3 in the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association state poll.

"It's a weird feeling," Palmyra senior shortstop Nolan Wosman said. "You never think it's going to get here. You always think, ‘Oh, I still have college,' but it's a different feeling walking off here now. It's tough."

Leeper made it tougher.

The senior right-hander took command of the strike zone with a fastball popping in the mid-80s, mixed in offspeed pitches effectively and stayed ahead of the count to most hitters.

The Southeast Missouri State University signee struck out nine, walked two and allowed one hit, while throwing 104 pitches over seven innings.

"We don't really see that kind of stuff around here every day," Wosman said. "It's just not the same when you get on a pitching machine. You don't see the arm. You don't see the action. There's no way to really prepare for that."

No one has been able to adequately prepare for it all season. Leeper has gone 20 innings since last allowing an earned run.

"You don't ever want to say you've grown accustomed to seeing that, but the kid has done it day in and day out for four years," South Callaway coach Heath Lepper said. "He's just a joy to watch."

Kroeger falls into that category as well, although this was his first start this season.

Sidelined by a knee injury suffered during the football season, the Maryville signee played in the last four games at either first base or as a designated hitter. Kroeger finally got to step into the role of ace he was expected to have.

He struck out four, walked five, allowed two hits and one unearned run over 4 1/3 innings, throwing 85 pitches before being pulled.

"He did a really good job of making them miss," Wosman said. "One kid gets a lucky swing and it turns the game around."

That occurred in the third.

Leeper led off by reaching on an error by Palmyra second baseman Dakota Compton. A groundout to Compton moved Leeper to second, and the Bulldogs' Tyklen Salmons fouled out to first baseman Corder Lehenbauer behind the South Callaway dugout.

Leeper tagged up and advanced to third, although the throw from Lehenbauer appeared to beat Leeper. However, the umpire said Leeper slid in under the tag and called him safe. Mistler flared a single the opposite way to left field for the first hit of the game and to score Leeper with the only run.

Pitching and defense did the rest.

"When you get a 1-0 game, you know you have two good teams making plays," Lepper said. "This was a great game."

Class 3 sectional

South Callaway 1, Palmyra

Palmyra 000 000 0--0 1 1

South Callaway 001 000 x--1 2 1

Kroeger, Stice (5) and Barnett; Leeper and Lallier. WP--Leeper. LP--Kroeger.