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Ozark continues winning ways by holding off Branson seventh-inning comeback bid


The 3-1 putout that actually never was for Ozark on Tuesday won’t live in infamy as another would-be 3-1 putout from the 1985 Cardinals-Royals I-70 World Series.

Ozark pitcher Gage Depee shook off his own error and quickly bounced back to close things out in the Tigers’ 7-5 triumph versus Branson.

In an incredible twist of irony, Depee induced the final two Pirates batters on the night to hit grounders to first baseman Brody Baumann. After the first grounder, Depee dropped a toss from Baumann at the bag for what would have been the final out. But Depee followed up by cleanly catching a toss from Baumann on the following grounder for the final out. 

“Sure enough, I got it again and we executed just like we wanted to,” Baumann said. “I wanted to take (the second grounder) myself because I was so close to the bag. But when it hit the lip (of the infield) and went up off of my shoulder, that’s when I thought, ‘I’m going to have to use Gage.’ He was covering his position and was there when I needed him.”

Depee gained the save with Branson stranding two baserunners.

A sophomore, Depee didn’t allow himself to get rattled by his own miscue and kept his cool under pressure.

“It was a mistake,” Depee said of his error. “I wasn’t worried. I knew we would get out of it. I knew my defense was going to back me up.”

“I knew he was locked in," Baumann said. “We kind of just looked at each other and we were like, ‘Buckle down.’”

“The worst thing he could do was get freaked out about (the error) and then all of a sudden the game speeds up on him and he loses the strike zone,” coach Justin Sundlie said. “But he stayed composed and kept pounding (strikes).”

Baumann recorded the win with a six-inning start that saw him hold Branson to three runs. 

“I thought I did all right,” Baumann said. “I struggled in the middle innings. I should have relied more on our infield. I had to trust my defense. That’s what helped me get through six (innings).”

As the game went along, Baumann had a strong hunch he would reach MSHSAA’s maximum pitch count of 105 and wouldn’t be able to go the distance. 

“I kind of assumed I probably wouldn’t (finish) because I had some full counts on batters and deep innings,” Baumann said. “It’s always good to get as much out of a start as you can and then go to a great reliever like Gage.”

“Brody went six strong innings,” Sundlie said. “One inning, he had to throw 15 extra pitches because we had a throwing error. If that doesn’t happen, maybe he throws a complete game. He did a good job minimizing (damage) and giving up just one run (in the second, third and sixth innings), instead of two or three in an inning.”

Depee has the utmost confidence in Baumann, but kept himself ready to pitch.

“I was ready for whatever,” Depee said. “I knew Brody was going to pitch good, he always does. If I had to come in, I would come in and clean it up.”

Depee is gaining varsity experience at an early stage in his career, just as he did in football. He values playing alongside seniors the likes of Baumann and outfielders Devyn Wright and Greydon Miller.

“I love having the older guys around. They’re all so smart,” Depee said. “I can learn so much from them in football and baseball.”

“You see the sophomore in him every now and then,” Sundlie said. “But he’s a tremendous athlete and works hard and wants to get better. He needs to stay hungry, not get satisfied. You can coach him hard and he responds to it."

Ozark jumped out to a 5-2 lead by putting up two runs in the first and three more in the third. The Tigers added single tallies in the fifth and sixth.

Catcher Cooper Buvid banged out three hits and Wright and Miller were both 2-for-3.

Ozark (11-4 overall and 2-0 in the COC) has won five of its last six games entering Thursday’s trip to defending co-COC champion Webb City.