Last week, Smith-Cotton moved up to No. 8 in the Class 5 Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association Poll and earned a No. 3 seed in the district tournament.
Saturday, they picked up a pair of wins against Glendale 11-1 and Republic High School, 8-3.
The Tigers, head coach Jud Kindle said, are trying to refine their game as the postseason approaches.
“What we’re looking to do is play the hardest schedule possible leading up to our district tournament,” Kindle said. “Obviously our goal, with seeding already happening and as strong as our district is, our goal is just to get ready for districts. Get our reps in and make sure we’re primed and ready to go.”
First pitch against Glendale was 10 a.m., but the most stressful situation for the Tigers came at about 1 p.m., five frames into their noon game against Republic.
Tyler Abney, a sophomore, relieved Smith-Cotton starter Dalton Zaremba with bases loaded and no outs in a 4-1 game. Abney hurled a barrage of fastballs at the visiting Tigers, who managed weak contact and batted into three outs and no runs.
“All fastballs,” Abney said of his pitch selection. “Just pounding the zone … Just going right at them. Challenging them up and seeing what they could do.”
Kindle said Abney performed as expected.
“Tyler is our closer,” Kindle said. “We expect him to do things like that. Tyler’s going to be special. He’s only a sophomore, but he’s got a very live arm.”
Smith-Cotton’s looked “primed” Saturday. They scored four runs in the sixth and Baxter Mays closed out the game in relief of Abney. But Kindle said Monday’s game at Warrensburg, a 10-6 road victory, illustrated a Tigers team with less bite.
“We need to learn to play this exact same way no matter who we play,” Kindle said. “Sometimes we go in cruise control. When we’re in cruise control, it’s like we’re just out there taking reps. And teams will beat you when you do that. We’re really trying to focus on breaking it down — winning innings, that’s important — but pitch-by-pitch. The difference between good and great is the focus.”
The Tigers travel to Clinton on Wednesday to face the Cardinals at 4:30 p.m., and play at Helias the next day at 5 p.m.
The Class 5, District 9 tournament begins Saturday when Smith-Cotton faces the host school Battle. The winner of that game plays Jefferson City next Monday.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2