BILLINGS – Both teams needed a win.
But it was Billings that used timely hits and a complete game, four-hitter from southpaw Nolan McCain to edge Ash Grove 4-2 Friday afternoon . McCain allowed a hit in each of the first three innings plus runs in the first and third, but settled in to allow just one more base hit in the final four innings. McCain struck out five and walked four in the game.
“That’s just Nolan, he does that. He gets into a groove, really about the third inning is when he starts getting comfortable,” Billings coach Beau Davis said.
The win improves the Wildcats to 4-3 under its first-year skipper. Losses to Seneca, Marionville and Monett dot the record of the No. 3-ranked team in the Class 1 Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association poll, but a win over a defending Class 3 district champion was welcome.
“This gives us a lot of confidence going into the rest of the season,” Davis said. “We did that on purpose, we scheduled a lot of bigger teams to get us ready for district play, the postseason at the end of the year.”
Ash Grove falls to 2-4 coming off a 17-11 campaign a season ago in which the Pirates beat Lamar to win Class 3 District 12.
Heavy graduation left skipper Evan Jones to challenge younger Pirates to contribute. A lack of hits with runners in scoring position, Jones says, made the difference against Billings.
“We stranded runners on third base five times, five different innings. If you don’t execute, somebody get a big two-out RBI or two here and there, you’re going to end up on the short end of the stick,” Jones said.
Billings’ Kaleb Clinton went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored from the No. 6 spot in the order.
“You may ask, ‘Why is he at the six-hole?’ But with him it’s just the spot where he’s most comfortable,” Davis said.
McCain helped his own cause with a pair of singles and an RBI. Jones applauded McCain’s game, and says the lefty is a big reason why Billings is competitive against larger schools.
“We knew coming in we were going to be facing their best guy. As their games have gone the rest of the year, when he’s on the mound they feel like they’ve got a chance to beat anybody, and for good reason,” Jones said.
Ash Grove visits Bolivar Monday afternoon, while Billings hosts the Spokane Owls at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.