Final Four Baseball

O'FALLON --- Third-place games, less than 24 hours after the dream of a state championship has ended, are about as compelling as a weed.

Or yogurt.

Or, on the flip side, it's all about character.

But if you have to play the darn thing, you may as well win it.

The Linn Wildcats showed character Tuesday. And they won it.

The Wildcats exploded for six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning on their way to an 8-1 win over Archie in the Class 2 third-place game at T.R. Ballpark.

"Coming off that loss in the semifinals, it's always tough," Linn coach Colby Nilges said. "You can hang your head and let it get to you. But that wasn't an issue, our guys were ready to compete.

"It showed. These kids are pretty special and they showed that again. We ended up the season on a good, solid note and with a win."

In Monday's semifinal against Valle Catholic, Daniel Bergtholdt was a one-man wrecking crew, going 3-for-4 with two RBI and pitching a complete game-four hitter with a whopping 15 strikeouts in his team' 4-0 win.

"We haven't seen much left-handed pitching all year, especially of that caliber," said Nilges, whose team had scored 43 runs in its previous four games heading into the Final Four. "He kept our hitters off balance ... he did a great job. That's the way baseball goes sometimes.

"But our guys never quit, they never gave in. As dominating as he was on the mound, we were just one or two hits away from making it a ball game."

Then came Tuesday. First, can you find Archie on a map? Second, can you name the team's mascot?

Me neither.

Archie is located about an hour south of Kansas City and is close to the Kansas border. And they're the Whirlwinds, whatever a Whirlwind is.

Ben Klebba and Tony Mebreur both had three hits and an RBI for the Wildcats, while Daulton Niederhelm had two hits and three RBI.

Linn had the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the second, but didn't score. But the Wildcats, likewise, also got out of some jams.

Left fielder Klebba threw out a runner at the plate to end the first inning, catcher Kyle Nolting picked off a runner at first base --- when Archie (19-8) had the bases loaded --- to end the third, and the Wildcats turned double plays to stymie potential rallies in the fourth and fifth.

Linn (22-5) tied it on a hit-and-run RBI single by Klebba in the bottom of the third, then came the fifth.

"We had a lot of ups and downs this season," Nilges said, "but this is a tight-knit group that sticks together. They know what know what they need to do.

"We hope we can take our experiences and take it on to next season."


Speaking of character and experience ...

The Fatima Comets, the defending Class 3 state champions, were down 6-0 entering the sixth inning of Tuesday's Class 3 semifinal game against Springfield Catholic.

A run in the sixth and three in the seventh pulled the Comets (21-10) within 6-4, but that's where it ended.

"Almost, almost," Fatima coach Scott Kilgore said. "We gave it our best shot.

"Springfield Catholic was just a little bit better than us. They got the runners on and they got the big hits to get them around. That's baseball."

Will Robertson had three of Fatima's nine hits.

"He had a great day in the box," Kilgore said.

Back to third-place games ... if you have to play it, you may as well win it.

"I told them in the huddle after the game," Kilgore said "'hey, we have some momentum going into tomorrow after what we did late in this game.'

"Honestly, we just looked around and I told the kids, we're in the Final Four. Look around, enjoy this, have fun. We weren't supposed to be here. This is the beauty of sports, this is the beauty of competition."