Willard has been a thorn in Rolla's side for the last four years. The Tigers have been in the Class 5 District 10 Tournament since 2015 and up until this season, has knocked Rolla out of the tournament by one run every year. That finally changed this year.
The Bulldogs, who now hold the school record for wins with their record of 23-6-1, knew they needed to hit the ground running and set the pace of the game and they did exactly that. Offensively, Rolla got things started in the third inning. After a double by Blayne Yarger, Davie Pound smacked an RBI double off the centerfield wall for the first run of the game. Noah Doyle followed that with an RBI single to push their lead to 2-0.
Rolla added to that lead with runs in each the fifth and the six innings. These insurance runs were the keys to Rolla's win. In the fifth, Brett Gonzalez came around to score on a single from Doyle, crossing home plate after an errant throw home. Pound then drove in his second run of the game in the sixth after another double from Yarger.
All this time, the Bulldogs got masterful pitching from Treyton Ruth. The junior was untouchable in the first six innings. He allowed a pair of singles in the first inning, but after that, he put Willard down in order for the next five innings. Other than needing a little held from Pound, who made a stellar leaping grab in left in the fifth inning, Ruth had little issue with the Tigers.
That changed in the bottom of the seventh. Garrett Rice led off the inning by mashing a home run over the left field wall. After getting a groundout, Ruth hit a batter, before Cameron Pope smashed a bomb into left center, cutting the Rolla lead to 4-3. That's when the Bulldogs turned to their other Ruth, senior Jeremiah Ruth. Treyton knew that his brother was going to come in and finish off this win for him.
"I trust him all the way," said Treyton. I knew he'd come in and shut them down and just keep doing what he does."
He proved to be the calming presence Rolla needed after a pair of home runs. He let up a single to the first batter he faced, but Zeke Arthur gunned down the would be tying run attempting to steal second.
"It was just a big out," said Arthur of the throw after the game. "At that point they had so much momentum going and it was about stopping that momentum. In baseball, it's a huge part of the game and that's what I was trying to do, just stop their momentum from carrying on."
The elder Ruth then forced a groundout to first. Tristen O'Neal flipped the ball to his pitcher and the celebration began. The Bulldogs piled on top of each other next to the mound and Blayne Yarger lost a tooth in the process. That didn't matter, because the Bulldogs were District Champs for the first time since 2014.
"It's a storybook finish right," said Rolla head coach Marty Hauck after the game. "Not necessarily what I wanted to see, but it worked out awesome for them. It's a great family moment, a great team moment for us. Jeremiah did a great job of coming in and calming everyone back down again and getting the outs."
This was a very special game for the Ruths, as one earned the win and the second earned a save in the victory. The two have been teammates for basically their entire lives and they got to extend that run with the win.
"We've been battling our whole lives together. I've only not played one season with him and that's when he was a freshman and so to finish my senior year Districts like that and finally beat Willard, that was amazing," said Jeremiah. Treyton added, "It's fantastic, I couldn't imagine playing with anyone else. He's great to play with and he's a mentor to me. He's taught me so many things and I just appreciate him so much."
Treyton Ruth said the number one factor in his performance was how much he wanted to get a win for the seniors. It proved to be great motivating factor as he allowed just four hits in 6.1 innings, who of which were those late home runs that led to three runs. He struck out six batters on his way to the win.
"Definitely the motivation to do it for my seniors," said Treyton after the game. "I know they've lost to Willard a couple of years in a row and that's something they wanted more than anything. I just wanted to go out and help those guys get that win because they deserve it."
The Rolla seniors also came up big time in the win. Pound and Doyle drove in all the runs for the Bulldogs with Pound collecting two base hits and Doyle getting three. Gonzalez and O'Neal each added hits. They also made big plays in the field, like Pound's leaping grab, Arthur's throw in the seventh and the senior connection of O'Neal to Ruth for the final out. It was a special experience for this senior class.
"It's amazing. I've had memories with every single one of these players and this is definitely the best one," said Pound after the game. Jeremiah Ruth added, "This is like nothing else. I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to grow up with and play with, battle with, to go to war with every day. We have intensity and we show up day and practice hard. Nobody works harder than us."
This win was some sweet revenge for Rolla, especially their seniors. Jeremiah Ruth was on the mound for the last two losses, so it was unbelievable to be on the mound for the win.
"It felt amazing, I've never felt better in my life," said the elder Ruth. "It's personally better for me because I've lost to them twice. I'm the pitcher that took the loss both times we played Willard, so to finally get that last out was big."
Pound added that this game has been what they've been waiting for since they lost to Willard by a run a year ago.
"It's the best feeling ever. Every time I've been training, weight lifting and hitting, I've constantly thought about them beating us for the last two years and it feels so amazing," said Pound. "I'm so happy and I love these guys so much."
Rolla's Sectional game will be played on their home diamond on Tuesday, May 22, but their opponent is still to be determined. They will face off against the winner of Hickman and Rock Bridge, who faced off in their District Championship game for Class 5 District 9 Tournament on Wednesday night. Results from that game were not available at press time.