Bell City baseball knocks off Bernie to win SCAA Tournament, defend title

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Bell City players celebrate following the final out to win the SCAA Tournament championship game 2-0 over Bernie on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, in Bernie, Mo. (DAILY AMERICAN REPUBLIC/Brian Rosener)

BERNIE, Mo. -- Austin Hicks was back on the mound Wednesday in the Stoddard County Activities Association Conference Tournament after the Bell City senior tossed two perfect innings of relief the previous night in the semifinal.

He earned his second win in less than 24 hours, as the Cubs defended their title with a 2-0 win over top-seeded Bernie.

"You've just got to bear down and deal with what you've got," Hicks said. "I don't think I had my best stuff today, but I had my good-enough stuff to win.

Bernie pitcher Alex Guzman throws during the SCAA Tournament championship game Wednesday, April 19, 2017, in Bernie, Mo. (DAILY AMERICAN REPUBLIC/Brian Rosener)

"That was a good team victory."

Hicks tossed a complete-game, two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts to stymie the Mules.

Bobby Wright's RBI single in the first inning was the second of Bell City's three hits, as Bernie's Alex Guzman was equally tough on hitters.

Cole Nichols opened the game with a single and stole second on a ball in the dirt before Wright's one-out hit.

"It was a good job to get us started after we just got done playing two games (Tuesday) to get to this point," Bell City coach Justin Simpher said.

In the semifinal, the Cubs (11-5) needed a rally in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings, beating Bloomfield 5-4 on Taylor Ogden's eighth-inning, walk-off hit.

Had Hicks thrown four more pitches in the semifinal, the Cubs would have been without their ace with the new pitch-count limits. Through four innings Wednesday, he had used 58 percent of his total.

"Thinking about it is not going to make it go away so you've just got to do what you've been told as a pitcher -- throw strikes and mix it up," Hicks said.

Guzman struck out six and allowed one earned run on three hits and a pair of walks. He fell behind 2-0 to start the game and Nichols pounced on the next pitch for a single. Following the RBI single to the opposite field on an outside pitch, Guzman retired nine straight.

Logan Yates drew a one-out walk in the fourth for the Cubs and reached third on a pick-off attempt throwing error. Guzman struck out the next hitter looking and got strike one swinging with Jesse Smith at the plate. Guzman's next pitch, however, ended up at the backstop and Yates scored standing up for a 2-0 lead.

"It was huge," Simpher said. "Bernie, they're a good team so you know you're going to need some runs."

One was enough for Hicks, who didn't allow a runner past second base.

"He's a senior and he knows how to battle," Bernie coach Marcus Massey said. "He knows how to win and win in big games. And credit to him. He went out there and fought like a madman and got it done."

Wyatt Barnett led off the bottom of the first with a walk but Hicks picked off the sophomore following a rundown between second and third base to end the inning.

Weston Comstock's grounder up the middle was Bernie's first hit with two outs in the third but Hicks got a groundout to his third baseman.

Bell City's Jesse Smith (9) watches a fly ball during the SCAA Tournament championship game Wednesday, April 19, 2017, in Bernie, Mo. (DAILY AMERICAN REPUBLIC/Brian Rosener)

In the fourth, Jayce Burk led off with a walk after fouling off a pair of two-strike pitches but was doubled off when Hicks made a diving catch off the mound on Dalton Hobgood's check swing pop up.

Nate Dillinger had a two-out double that landed inches fair down the left-field line in the fifth but Hicks struck out the next hitter. A two-out hit batter in the fifth was followed by a flyout to left field before the Mules went in order in the seventh.

"The defense has been playing well," Hicks said. "As a pitcher, that's more comfortable than having a lead, knowing the defense is going to make plays for you.

"That's a real confidence booster."

Guzman and the Mules wiggled out of a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth with a strikeout after Bernie's second error.

"He battled as well," Massey said of his pitcher. "Those two are probably two of the best seniors in the area I think on the mound, especially for small schools. If you give up one or two runs to either one of those guys you're probably in trouble for the day."

The Cubs won last year 7-5 in the final with Hicks earning the win on the mound after losing the 2015 final 2-0 to the Mules.

Like last year, both teams came in state ranked.

Bell City won its fifth straight game and is the top-ranked team in Class 1 as the two-time defending state champions.

Bernie (13-3) won its first 12 games of the season and came in averaging 8.7 runs per game. The Mules, ranked No. 7 in the latest state coaches poll, won 14-6 at Bell City on April 4, facing four pitchers.

"I think it's a good time to face a little bit of adversity," Massey said. "We played a lot of good teams."

Bell City1001000--230

WP -- Austin Hicks. LP -- Alex Guzman. 2B -- Nate Dillinger (B).

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