As strong an effort as Ozark pitcher Brady Dodd turned in Tuesday, his right arm failed him on what turned out to be two all-too-important occasions.
Ozark dropped a 2-1 decision to COC leader Willard, with an errant pick-off attempt by Dodd in both the first and second innings paving the way for both of Willard’s runs.
In the second, a wild throw by Dodd allowed a Willard runner to advance from first to second. The runner was able to go from second to third on a throwing error by first baseman Cash Morgan, after he retrieved the ball.
“The throw-aways to first are inexcusable,” Dodd said. You can be your own worst enemy in some situations. (The second pick-off attempt) wasn't a great throw. Cash had to reach across the runner.”
“We threw it around those first two innings,” Ozark coach Justin Sundlie said. “Usually, it doesn't come down to who does more offensively. It's more like who makes the fewer mistakes. If you just play catch, you don't have to worry.”
“Ozark’s kid threw the ball really well,” Willard coach Scott McGee said. “Our radar only said 81-82 (mph). But that ball jumped on our hitters and we didn't do a good job of catching up to him. They just had a couple pickoff throws they'd like to have back.”
Willard’s first run was set up by an errant pick-off attempt that allowed the baserunner to go to second. He scored all the way from second on an infield single when shortstop Garrett Bauer showed very good range on a grounder to his left, but made a late and ill-adivsed throw to first.
Dodd didn’t let his errant pick-off attempts affect his demeanor. He remained composed and pitched his best under pressure, escaping several jams while holding down a Willard offense averaging seven runs a game.
Dodd threw a two-hitter, after having a one-hit shutout in his previous start last week at Branson.
“You've got to put your foot on the ground and try to battle out of it,” Dodd said. “A big thing is to throw strikes. You can't get out of a jam without throwing strikes.
“I've been in some of these situations before. I know what it feels like to be in them,” he added. “I’m glad I was able to throw up those zeros when we needed them and keep us in the ballgame.”
“There were a few moments in which he lost control. But he delivered good pitches with runners in scoring position to get himself out of jams,” Sundlie said “Brady loves these big games. He wants the ball and is such a competitive kid. He realized his stuff was good enough. He never panicked, stayed within himself and made good pitches. He pitched well enough to win, but so did their guy.”
Willard starter Chris Massey no-hit Ozark over the first 5.1 innings. Reliver Cooper Wilken yielded one hit over the final 1.2 innings.
The final five innings were high-caliber, with each team playing sharp, fundamental ball.
“This was a playoff atmosphere game,” Sundlie said. “You had two arms going against each other. We did a lot of really good things. It wasn't like it was a bust. We dug in and tried to fight back. It was too little, too late.
“It was two good teams going at it,” he added. “I wish we had another shot at them, but we won't until next year.”
Ozark scored in the third, when Gage Depee walked, advanced to second on a balk, was bunted over to third by Garrett Bauer and came home on a sacrifice fly to center by Alex Nimmo.
Ozark’s lone hit was a single by Brock Sundlie with one out in the seventh.
Ozark had a handful of hard-hit balls right at Willard infielders and outfielders, including the final out in which Bauer lined to center field.
“I thought we were having good at-bats and hitting the ball hard,” Dodd said. “Something that has kind of been going on this year is hitting the ball hard right at guys. But there's more we can do to improve at the plate to get those to fall and get the hits when we need them.”
“We've had that kind of luck all season,” Nimmo said. “We’ve hit it hard and have good approaches, but (the defense) is always there.”
Willard (16-8 overall and 6-0 in the COC) maintained a one-game lead in the conference on Nixa (20-3 and 5-1).
Ozark (11-9 and 2-2) is back at it this afternoon at 3 p.m. at home versus Republic. The teams will resume their contest that was postponed due to rain several weeks ago.
The game will pick up with Republic leading 4-3 and having two runners on base an no one out in the fourth inning.