The Gremlins, in their third consecutive Kaysinger Conference Tournament championship, substituted a knockout blow for shallower, more frequent wounds against Northwest.
Some of the biggest setbacks for the Mustangs, however, were self-inflicted during a 14-5 Sacred Heart victory Thursday at Liberty Park at Dey field in Sedalia.
Kolin Brace threw more than 90 pitches and struck out seven in a complete game for Sacred Heart.
Gremlin head coach Jaric Reid called his pitcher a “bulldog” after the outing.
“If I had to put it one word, he was just a bulldog out there today,” Reid said. “That team, they’re a scrappy team at the plate … He’s just a bulldog.”
The Gremlins were aggressive on the base paths. They forced three Northwest balks during the game on early steals, and took advantage of eight Mustang fielding errors to improve on their lead. Sacred Heart scored a run in each of their six offensive frames.
Bryan Schlotterbeck, leading off for the Gremlins, set the aggressive tone with first-pitch swings and a knack for base-stealing.
“I try to hit the first pitch I see,” Schlotterbeck said. “I don’t think I saw one curveball.”
Thursday was just the freshman’s third time leading off for Sacred Heart. He said winning helped get him comfortable at the top of the order.
“I’m more comfortable now that I know I can produce,” Schlotterbeck said.
Nick Cashman put the Gremlins on the board in the first, scoring from third on a wild pitch.
Brace scored after Northwest starter Connor Tichenor balked on an early steal from Chance Spangler.
Tichenor exited in the fourth in favor of Chandler Crosswhite with two on and no outs in the fourth. A passed ball and errant throw to third scored Schlotterbeck.
In the same inning, Brenden Volcko reached on an error after the throw from shortstop eluded Northwest’s first baseman. Spangler singled, and forced another Mustang balk on an early steal to score Volcko from third. It was 7-2 Gremlins after four innings.
Northwest head coach Justin Wiskur said he was proud of the Mustangs, despite a disappointing defensive performance.
“It’s a big step forward for us as a program to be in this game,” Wiskur said. “Anytime that you put eight in the error column against a quality team like that, you’re not going to win the ballgame. And we kind of played timid. We played back on our heels defensively.”
The Mustangs collected eight hits to Sacred Heart’s nine.
Alex Brockman led off the third with a walk. He scored on after Austin Baron reached on an error at first. Dallas Hammonds hit an RBI single to score Baron and make it a 3-2 deficit.
Brockman again initiated a Mustang rally in the fifth with a 1-out single. Garren Powell reached on a single, and Hammonds picked up his second and third RBIs with a single of his own.
Three consecutive walks forced Wiskur to relieve Crosswhite for Rylan Chamberlin in the bottom of the sixth. Those three Gremlin runners scored and pushed their lead to 14-5.
Thursday’s tournament matchup was a nearly flipped script of Northwest’s 9-8 victory over Sacred Heart earlier this month. Errors held back the Gremlins as they let a 3-run lead slip away in the seventh with Brace on the mound. Brace said it felt good to avenge their only conference loss.
“We had to get back at them for last time,” Brace said. “We had too many errors the first time and didn’t hit the ball very well. Today we came out, got aggressive on the base paths and hit the their pitchers.”
Sacred Heart, which has won two of the last three conference titles, face Summit Christian Academy on the road Monday at 4:30 p.m. Northwest travels to Tipton for a makeup game Monday at 4 p.m.
Lincoln defeated Windsor 5-1 in the third place game. The Cardinals made it 4-0 with three runs in the fifth inning. The Greyhounds plated one run in the sixth, but Lincoln answered in the bottom half of the frame.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2