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Rematch against Kickapoo's Muldoon spells doom for Tigers in District opener


SPRINGFIELD — Ozark pitcher Cooper Pumphrey wasn’t surprised to see Kickapoo’s Colin Muldoon flourish in his rematch against the Tigers on Wednesday, after losing to them in regular-season action. 

Muldoon shut out Ozark 6-0 in a Class 6 District 6 opening-round game that bore absolutely no resemblance to the Tigers’ 5-4 victory against Kickapoo back in March.

Muldoon’s performance this time around was more in line with what Pumphrey is accustomed to seeing out of the junior southpaw. The two are summer ball teammates with the Inevitable A’s out of St. Louis.

“I did pitching lessons with him all winter. He’s got some insane stuff,” Pumphrey said. “I knew at any point he could blow the doors off. If his arm is feeling good and if his fast ball has the zip on it that it can have, he can be lights out. He’s got so much potential to easily be a (NCAA) D-I pitcher.”

Muldoon’s off-speed pitches produced repeated swings and misses throughout Ozark's lineup.

Muldoon flirted with a no-hitter, before settling for a two-hitter. Ozark was hitless until outfielder Ethan Blanchard beat out an infield single in the fifth inning. Blanchard doubled in the seventh for the Tigers’ only other hit.

Ozark didn’t have two baserunners in an inning until the seventh.

“Hard to beat that kid twice,” Tigers coach Justin Sundlie said. “He’s as good as advertised. He was locked in. Big game. He was in the zone, throwing pitches where he wanted to.”

Sundlie felt the biggest difference in the Muldoon who baffled Ozark Wednesday and the Muldoon who the Tigers hit rather well in March were his consistency and confidence.

“I thought he might have thrown less off-speed (Wednesday). I thought he was really good the first time we played them, too,” Sundlie said. “He did a really good job today getting them back in their dugout. They would have a good inning offensively and he would get them back in the dugout so they would keep that momentum. 

“The last time we played them it was a lot of back and forth,” Sundlie added. “He was very competitive for seven innings today and had us on our heels. That’s a lot of what pitching is, keeping the game going in your team’s favor. He was better than us today no doubt.”

Kickapoo plated one run in the second inning, three in the fourth and single tallies again in the sixth and seventh.

The only errors of the game came on two Ozark pick-off attempts at first base.

The Tigers also aided Kickapoo by walking two or more batters in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Starter Hudson Roberts was relieved by George Reynolds with one out in the fifth. Alex Nimmo relieved Reynolds with one out in the fifth.

“What’s hurt us more than anything all year has been free bases," Sundlie said “Putting people on base when they haven’t earned it, that’s what got us today. That’s been what we’ve battled. (Kickapoo) threw more strikes and had more timely hits, that’s what playoff baseball is all about.”

Playoff baseball is also all about pitching decisions. Sundlie certainly had a difficult choice to make between starting Roberts or Pumphrey on the mound. Entering Districts, Pumphrey had a no-decision in his regular-season start against Kickapoo, while the Chiefs hadn’t faced Roberts this season.

“It could have been either one of them,” Sundlie said. “They’re both good arms. We pitched Pumphrey the first time we played them, so I thought we might give them a different look. Pumphrey threw last Friday. This gave him another day of rest so he could have come back on Thursday (against top-seeded Glendale).”

Sundlie added Roberts has held his own against some of the best opponents Ozark has faced. Roberts held both Nixa and Willard to two runs.

“He’s handled hard games for us all year. He pitched to a gauntlet of teams — Willard, Nixa and Glendale,” Sundlie said. “Kickapoo is another good team. Bottom line, it’s about making plays and making pitches. I’m not down on him one bit. Hudson will learn from this. It’s valuable experience for him. Next year will be his his third year in a District tournament and that’s exciting."

Pumphrey, who blanked Carthage 8-0 last week, would have loved the chance to pitch against Glendale.

“It would have ben a fun game. I was looking forward to it,” Pumphrey said. “We were going to be all hands on deck tonight. I just didn’t get the call.” 

Ozark (17-18) was also shut out by Kickapoo 5-0 at Districts two years ago. The Tigers haven’t played in a District championship game since 2017.

Kickapoo (16-20) has won eight of its last 10 games, after enduring a 2-11 start to this season.

“Kickapoo is one of the best teams in SWMO right now,” Sundlie said. “We thought we were, too. But they put more barrels on the ball and outplayed us today.”