The Rolla High School baseball team clinched a winning record in the Ozark Conference Tuesday, defeating Joplin 7-3 at FCNB Field.

The Rolla High School baseball team clinched a winning record in the Ozark Conference Tuesday, defeating Joplin 7-3 at FCNB Field.

It’s the first time the Bulldogs, who improved to 5-2, will finish with a winning record in the Ozark Conference since rejoining the league in 2003. The past two seasons they have just missed out on the feat, finishing at 4-5.

The Eagles came into the game undefeated in league play at 3-0, but left as Rolla’s eighth straight victim this year, as Rolla improved to 13-2 overall. RHS has not lost since falling to Kickapoo on April Fool’s Day.

The streak is the Bulldogs’ longest winning streak in at least ten years, and maybe ever. RHS head coach Jason Swearingen, who took over the Bulldogs in 1999, said he’s never had a team that has won eight in a row. He says the key has been that his team is doing just about everything right.

“We’re pitching really consistently. We are getting good starts from all three starters. Our defense has been really solid. And, we’ve gotten a lot of timely hitting,” Swearingen said. “We are winning when we are coming from behind and winning by leading the whole way. Sometimes we are outslugging people like against Eureka and sometimes we are laying down three really good bunts and manufacturing runs like we did (Tuesday) against Joplin. You just have to credit this ball club. They are really versatile.”

The game with the Eagles looked like it was going to be a pitcher’s duel between two hard-throwing left-handers, but the Bulldogs blew the game open with three runs in the fifth and two in the sixth against Joplin’s John McDermid.
Meanwhile, junior starter Dalton Friend had a great outing for Rolla, working six strong innings. He allowed three runs, just two earned, on one hit and five walks. He stuck out eight.

“I threw the best I have all season. I came in and threw strikes, and that’s something I haven’t done all year,” Friend said. “I was happy to throw six good innings.”
The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, as Daniel Perdue walked and later came around to score with the aid of two errors by the Eagles.

After Joplin tied it up with a run in the top of the third, Rolla answered with a run in the bottom of the fourth to retake the lead. Tyler Sinnott walked and advanced to third when William Morrison reached on an error by the first baseman. Andy Hall followed with a beautiful bunt to the right side that scored Sinnott. The bunt was so well-placed that he reached base for a single.

Joplin immediately tied it back up with a run in the top of the fifth, but the Bulldogs regained the lead for good in the bottom of the same inning. Perdue led off with a walk and was bunted over to second by Friend. After an intentional walk to Sinnott, Will Morrison advanced Perdue to third with a fly ball to right. Sinnott proceeded to steal second to get into scoring position as well.

This set the stage for Ross Parker, who had struggled in his first two plate appearances against McDermid, striking out both times. However, Parker has been an RBI machine all year, and he came through once again in the clutch. It was a great at bat, as he battled deep into the count and then lined a ball into right field. The two-out hit ended up being the game-winner, as both runners came around to score.

“I wasn’t trying to do too much with the ball, take it the opposite way,” Parker said. “It just feels good to get the win. We are 5-2 in conference now, and we have a big game coming up (today).”

The hit was also a great story because it provided a big bit of redemption for Parker, as he had two errors earlier in the game that contributed to Joplin’s first two runs. 

“You can’t wear your emotions on your sleeve,” Parker said. “If you screw up, you have to forget about it.”

Hall followed with a single. Then Parker came around to score when the pitcher threw wild in an attempt to pick Hall off first.

In the sixth, Rolla added two insurance runs after Joplin had closed it back within two with a run in the top of the inning. Cameron Fore started the rally with a triple and scored on a Perdue squeeze bunt. Friend followed with a single. He scored on a double by Sinnott.

Morrison pitched a perfect seventh inning to close out the Bulldogs’ win.
A streak of eight wins is never easy, but this has to be considered particularly impressive. Five of the wins have come against conference opponents, including the likes of Hillcrest. It has also included wins over Eureka, who was state-ranked at the start of the year and who was pitching a University of Missouri signee, and Stoutland, who played for the state title in its class last season.

What exactly has been the secret to the Bulldogs’ success?

“Our pitching has been good, but there is always room to improve,” Friend said. “The hitting has been a really nice surprise. I thought we were going to have to dominate with our pitching, but we are swinging the bats really well. And, when you score more runs than the other team, you win. Let’s just hope we can keep it up.”

“I think it’s just that we are playing together and having a lot of fun.” Parker said. “This is a group of guys that has been playing together since t-ball. We are bonding better than we ever have.”

Rolla returns to action today with a critical game against Glendale that has major district and conference ramifications. Chris Bowe is slated to start the game in Springfield, however weather could be an issue.

Notes: After some doubt, it looks as if the Bulldogs will get their shot at the Four Rivers Tournament title. The finals have been rescheduled for May 3 at East Central Baseball Field in Union. Bowling Green will play Union in the semifinals that day. The winner will play Rolla. The loser will play Borgia. ... On Monday, Rolla will play Southern Boone County at 2 p.m. in the opening round of the Fulton Tournament. If the Bulldogs win, they’ll play the winner of the Moberly-Hallsville game.