SULLIVAN, Mo. — In 2016, the Helias Crusaders needed 11 innings to win the district baseball title.
In 2017, it took 16 innings for the Crusaders to capture its second straight district crown.
There was no extra time needed Wednesday as Helias defeated the St. James Tigers 8-2 to take the Class 4 District 9 title.
"This is a lot nicer to win it in just seven innings," Helias coach Chris Wyrick said. "But any way you win a district title is nice. It's great to get back into the playoffs."
Helias (20-7) advances to take on Bolivar (15-9) next Tuesday in Bolivar. The Liberators, the No. 2 seed in District 10, upended top seed and host Marshfield 4-2 on Tuesday to advance to the sectional round.
"They are playing some good baseball," Wyrick said.
Helias defeated Bolivar 5-1 for the 2016 district title in the tournament played at School of the Osage.
The Crusaders staked their claim to the title early in Wednesday's game, taking a 3-0 lead after two innings.
Helias starting pitcher Zach Davidson allowed a pair of two-out walks but got a strikeout to end the top of the first.
Zach Woehr led off the bottom of the inning with a single. After Woehr stole second, Landon Harrison walked before Trevor Austin lined a single to left to plate Woehr and move Harrison to third. Alex Buschjost followed with a walk to load the bases.
After a pop out, Dylan Hood brought home Harrison with a groundout to third.
Davidson retired the Tigers in order in the second, striking out two.
Austin Fennewald led off Helias' half of the second with a single. Jeremiah Heckman laid down a sacrifice bunt for an out as courtesy runner Brandon Ferguson moved all the way to third when no one was covering the base for St. James. Woehr then singled to left to plate Ferguson and make it 3-0.
The inning then came to an odd ending when Harrison blooped a single to left. Woehr got to second, but was unsure whether the ball was going to be caught, so he ran back toward first and past Harrison. The Tigers got the force out at second and Harrison was ruled out for passing Woehr for a double play to end the inning.
"We left at least three runs out there in those first couple of innings," Wyrick said.
St. James appeared poised to climb back into the game in the top of the third when the Tigers sandwiched a pair of walks around an error on a bunt to load the bases with nobody out. But the Crusaders got the first out when a Tiger baserunner was tagged out at the plate by Fennewald trying to score on a wild pitch. Davidson then got a strikeout and grounder to short to end the inning.
After Davidson worked around a leadoff double in the fourth, the Crusaders scored twice in the bottom of the inning.
Parker Schnieders led off the inning with a single before advancing to third when the ball got past the St. James left fielder. One out later, Schnieders took off for home on what was supposed to be a suicide squeeze.
"You want to put pressure on a defense," Wyrick said. "You want to make teams have to make defensive plays in big situations and if they can't do it, you have to take advantage."
But the Helias hitter missed the sign on the pitch, which fortunately bounced away from the St. James catcher as Schnieders crossed the plate.
"We have to clean that up," Wyrick said. "We can't afford to be doing that."
After a groundout, Woehr singled to right before coming home to score on a triple by Harrison to make it 5-0.
Davidson struggled at times with his control Wednesday and it cost him in the fifth. Three walks loaded the bases with two outs before a single brought home two runs.
"St. James is a lot like Fatima is every year, if you have a chance to put them away and you don't do it and you let them hang around, they're going to make you pay," Wyrick said. "They're young and they are going to be a handful next year for somebody at districts."
Kaleb Haley came in and got the final out of the inning on his first pitch to halt the St. James threat.
"He's been great for us all year," Wyrick said. "He's got heart, he's got guys and he competes and that's just about everything you can ask out of a player.
"We're going to keep using him in those type situations because he's proven he can do the job."
Helias got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning. Buschjost led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice bunt by Hood.
"Alex is back to swinging the bat the way he's capable of swinging it," Wyrick said. "If we can get a couple of more guys down in the lineup doing the same thing, I like our chances on offense."
Helias picked up two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. Griffin Buschjost scored on a Harrison single, then Harrison scored on a single by Alex Buschjost.
Davidson was the winning pitcher, working 4 innings. He allowed two runs on two hits and seven walks to go along with seven strikeouts. Haley got the save, giving up a walk and striking out one in the final 2 innings.
Game time Tuesday in Bolivar has not been announced.