Running low on pitchers and just one loss from elimination, the Muckdogs could’ve easily collapsed.
Instead, their offense exploded, putting up two run-rule wins against the Thunder and the Mudhens — two fellow Pittsburg County Little League teams — Saturday at the Little League State AAA Tournament at Deerinwater Field in Krebs.
Despite the Muckdogs’ dominant victories Saturday, the Mudhens, who entered both championship games with more pitchers available, won Sunday’s second championship game 13-9 to win the state AAA tournament.
Muckdogs 12, Thunder 2
The Thunder played even with the Muckdogs through three innings, never leading nor falling behind by more than a run. But after the Thunder failed to score in the top of the fourth and trailed the Muckdogs 3-2, the Muckdogs sent 12 to the plate in the bottom half, plating nine runs and forcing the run-rule.
“We hit the ball well these last two or three games,” Muckdogs coach Jerrel Hoffman said. “We’ve kind of come alive at the bats. We’ve struggled there, it seems, throughout the season, but we’re hitting the ball well right now.”
Jett McClendon and Zain Wilson led off the bottom of the fourth with back-to-back walks for the Muckdogs, and Cayden McElhaney drove in both with a double to right field, taking third on the throw home. Ty Hoffman then grounded into a fielder’s choice, and McElhaney beat the throw home for a 6-2 lead.
Two Thunder errors on the play allowed Hoffman to get all the way to third, and Ethan West drove him in with a grounder that Thunder shortstop Connor Clayton couldn’t throw cleanly to first. Kaiden Cusher doubled to the wall in left-center to drive in a run, then the Muckdogs loaded the bases on an infield single and a walk before Walker Wilson singled in a run for a 9-2 lead.
Thunder coach Rodney Kelley brought in Gavin Johnson to relieve Thomas Smith. Johnson faired no better against the patient Muckdogs, walking all three batters he faced to force in three runs and activate the run rule.
Just like Johnson and Smith, Thunder starting pitcher Cameron Warden also struggled with his command. Warden walked six of the 17 batters he faced over three-plus innings, including walking Hoffman with the bases loaded to put the Muckdogs up 3-2 in the bottom of the second.
“He was our last pitcher,” Kelley said of Warden. “The kids that pitched at the end of the game had never pitched all year. I just ran out of pitching, and when you’re in a tournament like this, if you don’t have four or five pitchers, you’re kind of in trouble.”
Muckdogs starter West, meanwhile, went the distance, allowing two runs on one hit, two walks and five strikeouts in four innings. He pitched 1-2-3 innings in both the first and third.
“That’s the key to this age group, is pitching,” Coach Hoffman said.
“Ethan did a great job ... Came in and threw strikes when we need him to. Just getting it across the plate, that’s the key to this age group. If you can get it across the plate, you’re going to be successful.”
Cusher drove in McElhaney with an RBI fielder’s choice at second base in the bottom of the first, then the Thunder scored two runs on passed balls in the top of the second for a brief 2-1 lead. The Muckdogs tied the game when, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second, Clayton couldn’t field a chopper from Max Noel, allowing Avery Williams to come home.
Though no one had more than one hit for the Muckdogs, seven different players reached base at least twice. McClendon drew a walk in all three of his at-bats, scoring Tucker McBane on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the fourth.
Josiah Ostrowski singled and reached on an error for the Thunder, and Warden reached twice via fielder’s choice. The Thunder finished third in the five-team state tournament.