After a second consecutive appearance at the Class 1 Missouri State Final Four last season, the Northwest Mustangs are manuevering through a difficult schedule at its most graceful pace in three years.
The Mustangs (8-3) earned the top seed in the Kaysinger Conference Baseball Tournament with a 9-6 victory over Lincoln, have outscored opponents 100-43 and suffered just its third loss Wednesday, 9-8, to Smith-Cotton’s junior varsity in extra innings.
Northwest head coach Justin Wiskur said game-to-game results are less important than the big picture: returning to the state tournament.
But the results are there, enabling rare losses to be essential lessons.
“That’s exactly why we beef up the schedule,” Wiskur said. “Hoping to win, playing to win, but understanding there is such a thing as a good loss.”
Stretching a relief appearance to five innings, Baron Austin surrendered a 2-out, game-tying triple to Brody Kindle, who scored the walkoff run on a wild pitch.
“I thought (Austin) held it together pretty decent,” Wiskur said. “Unfortunately, he got the guy down 1-2, and he tried to overthrow a fastball.”
With two outs in a tied game, Austin snuffed a Smith-Cotton rally in the fourth after starter Rylan Chamberlin was lifted.
Chamberlin and Austin struck out five apiece, surrendering 10 hits combined.
Brayden Ballard started, followed by Nick Anders, Will Knight and Brendon Homan on the bump for Smith-Cotton.
Garren Powell spoiled Knight’s save opportunity with a 2-out single in the seventh. In extras, Dallas Hammonds broke the tie with a bases-loaded knock off Homan.
Wiskur said Wednesday’s back-and-forth affair is an ideal matchup for the Mustangs, seeking to strike a balance between confident swagger and shrewd dilligence en route to a third chance for a state title.
“It’s a big talk around school — it has been all year. The boys are jacked, they’re ready,” Wiskur said. “That’s been one big emphasis with myself and the coaching staff, is getting their mentality right, getting them plugged in. Understanding that, because we have Northwest across the chest, most teams aren’t going to lay down. You’ve got the bullseye on your back, and they want to beat you, because that’s a huge win for a lot of schools.”
With a road game against Smithton 5 p.m. Thursday, the Mustangs have a chance to enter the conference tournament with three losses. One to Class 4 Reed Spring, one the reserves of Class 5 Smith-Cotton and another to Lone Jack — a game in which Northwest issued 14 free passes between walks and hit batsmen.
For now, Wiskur has ascribed special value to Northwest’s only losses.
“I say (Lone Jack) was a bad loss, but, coaches talk,” Wiksur said. “We look at it like, you know what, that’s going to end up being a good loss because it woke them up.”
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2