The Class 5 District 9 championship game between Camdenton and Rolla in Waynesville Tuesday night featured a combined 21 walks, five hit batters and four errors, but the Lakers found a way to outpace the Bulldogs in an 8-6 win for the program’s first district championship since 1989.

It was kind of an unorthodox game to say the least. 

The Class 5 District 9 championship game between Camdenton and Rolla in Waynesville Tuesday night featured a combined 21 walks, five hit batters and four errors, but the Lakers found a way to outpace the Bulldogs in an 8-6 win for the program’s first district championship since 1989. 

Camdenton freshman pitcher Conner Miller was asked to record the save and with the game-tying run on first base, a grounder was hit to shortstop Brandon Pasley who calmly scooped the ball up and fired it to first baseman Drake Miller for the first district title in 30 years.

“We were super confident. We never had a doubt in our mind we were going to go out and win that baseball game,” Pasley said after his fifth-seeded Lakers held off a late surge from top-seeded Jefferson City to knock off the Jays by a run in the district semifinals the night before. “We just stuck to what Coach (Bryce) Durnin and the rest of the coaches have been talking to us about and we just went out and played our game.”

Well, one of those messages Durnin and his staff have emphasized is the difference between joy and happiness where happiness was short term while joy can last forever. Ever since losing four straight games around the start of April, Camdenton has gone 13-4 and now there is plenty of joy to be had with a district title coming back home. 

“Joy lasts forever, win or lose, hit or strikeout, error or made play and that has been our battle cry here,” Durnin said. “Have joy in this game, no matter what your outcome is whether you are hitting, pitching or whatever. Let’s go have some fun.” 

The coach was also glad to see Pasley execute the final out of the night.

“It is fitting that the most ‘Stay-Calm’ player that I have is our shortstop Brandon Pasley. He has been a starter since his freshman year and there is not a better person to receive the last out of a game when you know your legs are jello and you feel like you are going to throw that ball over the fence than Pasley,” Durnin noted. “I think he kind of sets a tone of that level-headedness in all of our wins that get a little crazy, especially yesterday.

“It feels like yesterday was about three days ago at this point,” he added with a smile, referring to the Jefferson City semifinal game.

Things got off to a shaky start for the Lakers as starting pitcher Jack Welsh recorded the first two outs, but had a little trouble with his command as five walks and a hit-by-pitch gave Rolla an early 3-0 lead. However, the club was not rattled as the offense got to work in the second inning and chopped the deficit to a single run on a 2-RBI double from Pasley. 

Rolla answered back with a solo home run in the bottom of the second, but Camdenton took the lead for good in the third. With the bases loaded, Andrew DiBello was beaned for the first of two RBIs where DiBello was hit by a pitch. 

“That feels great, just doing my job man,” DiBello said with a smile. “Whatever it takes to get the win, it was great. I was really happy to get hit, honestly.” 

Preston Crabtree proceeded to deliver two more runs on a hard-hit fielder’s choice that allowed a second run to come in on an error during a double-play attempt. Then Garrett Stamper hit an RBI-double to extend the lead to 6-4. 

DiBello was beaned again in the fourth to give his team a 7-4 lead and a wild pitch allowed the final run of the night to score as well. Luke Lockhert, Dylan Thompson, Riley Stidham, DiBello, Crabtree and Stamper all had a hit each to lead the Laker bats with six total hits on the evening.

Rolla managed to plate two more runs after a pickoff attempt sailed over the first baseman’s head in the fifth, but the Laker pitchers were solid the rest of the way and had only actually given up two hits on the night. 

Stidham delivered three innings on the hill allowing three runs on a hit with three walks and strikeouts, Lockhert pitched 2 2/3 innings giving up a hit with three walks and strikeouts and it all came down to a freshman for the final two outs. Conner picked up a strikeout before the game-ending groundout and quickly found himself surrounded by a host of ecstatic teammates as they rushed the hill.

Not a bad start to his Camdenton career and Conner will get to see that district title plaque on the wall when he walks the halls of the school the next three years. Did he imagine he would get a chance to record a save for a district title in his first year?

“No I didn’t, but I had confidence we could pull it out,” Conner said of the situation.

“I knew they were not going to hit the ball and that kid was going to groundout there. He walked the whole game.” 

Durnin had called on Conner during a game against Helias earlier this season and he liked what the freshman was throwing as the outing gave the skipper confidence he could call upon him again. 

“If I am going to beat myself up tonight, it is not doing it sooner,” Durnin said of the decision to trot out the freshman. “He has earned it and that is my only regret. Nothing against Luke, Luke was right there, but Conner earned that spot and I am not surprised nor shocked as to what he did tonight to close that out.”

As proud as Durnin was of the freshman, he was also just as proud of this senior group that has done their part to help turn the program around. Camdenton (17-9) has now won 17 games for the second straight year when the program last enjoyed a winning season in 2012.

“This group of seniors have done a great job of just getting rid of some things we have been able to accomplish in the past,” the coach said, also referring to a series of one-run losses to Jefferson City in the past few years.

“Just kind of staying the course, doing what we down here, trying to make one play after another and not worrying about what anyone else is doing in Springfield or any other town. Just doing what we do every day, having a good plan and kind of creating a good system and a good culture. This group of seniors, I tell you what, the positivity, the ‘want-to’ and the work without anyone asking them to do the work is what got us over the hump this year.”

It has been a fun year overall for Lakers as the baseball program joins softball, football and boys’ basketball in the district championship club. The girls’ soccer team played for one Wednesday night. Pasley also got to enjoy the basketball title when he was on the court and he knew the ballplayers on the diamond were also more than capable.

“I knew this was a special team and we knew we could go out and do something really spectacular for the city of Camdenton. We are just glad to do that,” he said. 

“It just shows how much perseverance our team has and how much grit we show whenever we play. We are not going to back down, no matter what, and we are not done yet.” 

Camdenton’s journey will continue against Ozark Conference foe Glendale when the Lakers host the Falcons in sectionals on Tuesday. A game time has not been scheduled as of yet.

“Glendale is tough and I imagine we are going to get a guy that has chewed up everyone in Southwest Missouri this season and really some of last,” Durnin said. “But you know what? We are just going to stick back to what we’ve been doing. We are not going to get enamored with who they throw out there, or the last time we beat Glendale. We are just going to go out there and do our thing.

“We have nothing to lose and that is the way we’ve been playing I feel like for the last two weeks…. We need to make the plays we need to make and pitches we need to make and put ourselves in a position to win.”