By Brock Sisney (for OzarksSportsZone.com)
JOPLIN – The Seneca Indians, behind a four-stroke gem from senior pitcher Lance Stephens and aggressive and timely low shots, won their first district title since 2013 with a 10-1 win Wednesday night over the Nevada Tigers in the historic Joe Becker. Stadium.
Seneca, who lost twice earlier in the season to Nevada (3-1 in tournament, 16-5 in conference), improved to 16-11 overall and the Indians are awaiting the Class 4 winner, District 11 – Big 8 East rivals Aurora (17-7) and Hollister (22-5) face off Thursday.
Stephens finished the first three without yielding a hit and gave up two hits in the fourth and fifth, but the Indians limited the Tigers to one inning. Seemingly even stronger late in the game, Stephens pulled Nevada out in order in sixth and seventh.
“He’s played well for us all season,” said Seneca head coach Chris Yust. “When he’s on, he has four shots he can throw for a strike. He imbalances guys and he did it today. The defense played well behind him. They hit a few balls hard and we made the plays early. It’s the third time Lance has pitched against them this year, so we gave him the ball and he was good to go.
Stephens had a particularly tough outing in the 16-5 loss to Nevada in late April, but he was the one who controlled Wednesday’s biggest game of his life so far.
Keep in mind that Stephens thwarted a Nevada offense that scored at least 10 points eight times in a 19-7 season. The Indians have slowed Nevada better than everyone else this season except Monett and McDonald County, both of whom have excluded the Tigers.
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Fellow senior Lucas Marrs had a pair of two-run hits, a double in the second and a single in the sixth, and finished with three runs overall. The Indians scored one in the first, two in the second, one in the third, one in the fifth, four in the sixth and one in the seventh.
Seneca tackled half of his points against Nevada starter Cole Sanderson, four against reliever Lane Wilson and one against reliever Eli Cheaney.
“He came focused and hit the ball down the middle where he needed it,” Yust said of Marrs. “Shot one down the line, got one, and with his hands he did a great job at home plate. Their pitcher (Sanderson) does a great job, he’s a good pitcher, and the kids did a good job against him.
Marrs set the tone for Seneca early on with a starting single and with two strikeouts and runners at the corners Nevada caught up with Titus Atkins in a recap between first and second. Marrs decided he would take a break for the house and he beat the shortstop Cheaney’s pitch for the first inning of the contest.
The Indians stole seven bases and their runners gave their hitters several RBI chances. For example, Sebastian Middick made a single in the lead of the third, stole the second and third and scored on a single from Drew Sampson RBI.
“We’re aggressive on the basics,” Yust said. “Put the pressure on them, let them play, and good things happen.”
The Indians scored their first three runs with two outs – in the second, No.8 hitter Lincoln Renfro made a center single and No.9 Tanner Nesvold worked a walk, then Marrs drove them home with a double on the left field line.
Seneca came down in order in the fourth, but it was the only smooth inning for a Nevada pitcher all night.
Atkins hit RBI singles in the fifth and sixth and Conner Ackerson’s RBI singles in the seventh ended the scoring. Coming off the bench, senior Calvin DePriest narrowly missed a hit that would have given Seneca a rule victory.
The Indians have 10 seniors on their roster and several of them led the way in the district title game.
“These guys worked hard all year,” Yust said. “We were in every game, right there, and we gave it a chance to win it. They deserve it.”