The Jefferson City Renegades played their biggest game of the season Friday night.
Now they will play their biggest game of the season tonight.
The Renegades used a combination of strong pitching, good defense and timely hitting Friday night to defeat the Joplin Outlaws 5-2 in a MINK League South Division game at Vivion Field.
That sets up a winner-take-all home game tonight against the Outlaws, with the victor hosting the loser in a wild-card game Monday.
"We're trying to get home-field advantage, not just for us, but for the city," Renegades catcher Hamilton Anderson said. "We really want to win it for the city, they've supported us so well all season."
The Renegades jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Drew Mize led off with a walk and after a line out, stole second. One out later, Carter Mize smacked a 2-0 pitch into the gap in left-center to score his brother and give the Renegades the lead.
While it was nice to grab the early advantage, the Renegades knew it likely wasn't going to be enough.
"It's a long game, it would have been different if we were up something like 4-0," Renegades coach Mike DeMilia said.
The Outlaws tied the game in the top of the second when Cameron Pfafman singled to score Ethan Ellis.
Both teams left the bases loaded in the third and neither scored in the fourth.
The Outlaws then took the lead in the fifth. Brett Weimers led off with a single and one out later, moved to second on a walk to Logan Cline. Ellis then singled to left to score Weimers to make it 2-1.
"They have a good offense, they are hard to shut out," DeMilia said.
Renegades starter Jacob Davis pitched the first five innings. He allowed two runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out four.
"Jacob battled and gave us a chance," DeMilia said.
Tony Neubeck came on to pitch for the Renegades in the sixth. The lefty is a recent addition to the Renegades. Just last month, the Missouri signee was pitching and playing first base for state champion Mahtomedi High School in Minnesota.
"I love being the guy who gets the call, I love having the ball with my team confident behind me," Neubeck said.
Neubeck entered Friday night's game having struck out all nine batters he had faced as a member of the Renegades.
"When he showed up, we were wondering who this kid was," Anderson said. "But when he struck out the first nine batters he faced, OK, he can play a little bit."
Neubeck allowed a two-out single in the sixth, then worked out of a jam in the seventh when the Outlaws had runners at first and second with one out to keep the deficit at one run.
The Renegades needed something to happen with their offense.
"We weren't dead, but you could start counting the outs that were left," DeMilia said.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Josef Keilholz came through for the Renegades, belting a solo home run to right field to tie the game at 2.
"He's been unbelievable the last 10-12 games, it was a great swing from him," DeMilia said.
In the top of the eighth, the Outlaws had a runner at first with two outs when Weimers hit a pop-up on the third base side of the mound. Neubeck called for the ball, but stumbled and it dropped for a hit to put runners at the corners.
To compound matters, Neubeck got a cut on his right wrist on the play. He walked off the field to a big ovation, only to come back out after getting his wrist taped and got a strikeout to end the inning.
"He's a hard-nosed hockey player, he was just going to finish it," Anderson said. "I respect that."
Neubeck knows that may not have been his ball to catch.
"I learned my lesson," he said.
Carter Mize led off the bottom of the eighth with a bloop single down the line in left. Ben Burton then laid down a perfect bunt between the mound and first base for a single to put runners at first and second.
"That was a big play," DeMilia said.
The Outlaws decided to change pitchers and DeMilia took advantage of the time to talk to Anderson, who was coming to the plate.
"I asked him if he wanted to bunt, he said, 'No, I don't want to bunt,'" DeMilia said. "He was never going to bunt, I was kind of kidding with him."
Anderson wasn't kidding around at the plate as he smacked a 1-1 pitch over the fence in center for a three-run home run to give the Renegades a 5-2 lead.
It was Anderson's fifth home run of the season to go along with 25 RBI.
"I've been working on hitting the ball off the center field wall in recent days and that was what I was trying to do," Anderson said. "Just hit it hard and good things happen.
"I love being in the big situations, you play for those."
In the ninth, Neubeck allowed a two-out walk before getting a line out to center to end the game. He got the win, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out six in the final four innings.
"He's a young kid with good stuff," DeMilia said. "He's a competitor."
The strong outings by Davis and Neubeck saved the Renegades' pitching staff for today's game.
"We're going have everybody ready to go if needed," DeMilia said.
Today's game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start.
"Win or lose, we're going to come out and play hard," DeMilia said. "We will compete. Hopefully we can get it done."
With a win, the Renegades would host a playoff game for the first time in their four-year history.
"We just have to go out and win it," Anderson said.