All Justin Atchison does is win.
The senior ace of Willard’s pitching staff has been dominant throughout his career and he was again on Thursday.
Atchison fell behind early but got more than enough run support to beat Ozark, 9-3, in Central Ozark Conference action, and remained undefeated (14-0) in his career.
“He’s pitched against a lot of good teams, but his secret is his confidence,” Willard coach Scott McGee said. “You could put Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard up there and Atchison would say, ‘I’ll get them out.’
“That’s just who he is and it’s amazing to think that in the COC, with the schedule that we play, that you could have a pitcher undefeated in his high school career.”
Ozark scored first, in the bottom of the first inning, when senior Zeke Barnes walked and scored on an RBI single by sophomore Collin Fraley.
Willard (15-5, 5-1), winners of eight consecutive games, answered in the second inning, scoring four runs off two hits and two Ozark errors to take a 4-1 lead.
Once Ozark (13-8, 2-3) failed to field a sacrifice bunt by Atchison with a runner on in the second inning, Willard tried it once more the very next batter, and Ozark mishandled it again.
“We preach that baseball is a game of outs and we want them to get an out where it’s presented and just do the little things,” Ozark coach Mike Essick said. “That’s what this game demands and we’ve struggled with this all year long.”
Ozark scored twice in the bottom of the sixth to make the score 6-3, but Willard put the game away with three more runs in the seventh.
Atchison gave up three runs on eight hits and struck out four, was 2-for-3 at the plate — and gave his defense all the credit.
“Our defense was phenomenal today,” Atchison said. “Michael Pfeifer has grown so much as an outfielder, I can’t say enough about the job he did, and Nik Taylor behind the plate has been great lately. “It’s nice to know that when your pitches are working well that you can throw it anywhere and our defense will make the play.”
Pfeifer made two stellar catches in left field, during the fourth and fifth innings, which saved runs from scoring as Ozark rallied.
Taylor, a junior, went 2-for-3 at the plate with three RBIs and three runs.
“I feel like I was seeing the ball pretty good today,” Taylor said. “In my first at-bat, I was expecting a curveball and got a fastball in the ribs, and that kind of calmed me down a little bit.”
Four of Willard’s 10 hits came from the bottom third of the lineup.
“We’ve been getting production from the top of the lineup to the bottom and tonight it was Nik,” McGee said. “When you can get production like that out of your unsung guys, you’re going to be successful, and the bottom of our order did a really good job today.”
Willard could be getting senior pitcher Austin Reaves back from an elbow injury down the stretch. Reaves, who has missed most of the season, would be a big addition for Willard come playoff time.
“He’s almost done with his rehab,” McGee said. “He’s working out with the Springfield Cardinals’ trainer (today) and hopefully he will be cleared and hopefully we’ll have him back by districts.”