OZARK — Blair Oaks coach Mike DeMilia said Wednesday night wasn't about style points, it was all about the Falcons ending the game with one more run than their opponent.
And they did.
Wil Libbert pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings, the Hollister Tigers scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and Falcons closer Cade Stockman stranded the tying run at third base, sealing a 3-2 Blair Oaks win in the Class 4 state semifinals at U.S. Baseball Park.
Blair Oaks scored its three runs in the top of the second inning, without having a hit in the frame.
"They made some mistakes in that second inning, and we took advantage of it, allowing us to get that lead," DeMilia said. "Obviously, we needed every run that we could get.
"It wasn't pretty, I don't know if we were the better team, but we ended up winning."
With the win, third-ranked Blair Oaks (28-5) advances to the state championship game, where the Falcons will face the second-ranked Kennett Indians (25-8) at 6:30 p.m. today. Kennett rallied to score nine runs in the top of the seventh inning to beat the St. Joseph Lafayette Fighting Irish 11-4 in Wednesday's first semifinal game.
With Wednesday's win, the Falcons are 7-0 all-time in the Final Four and will be looking to add to their state championship banners from 2006, '07 and '19.
"None of the guys were involved in the first four (Final Four) wins, but a lot of them have been involved in the last three," DeMilia said. " We have to focus on a good Kennett team. They looked really good and they're going to be a huge challenge for us."
The game quickly became a pitchers' duel between Libbert and Hollister senior left-hander Landon Richards.
"It was a good battle," Libbert said. "It reminded me of when I pitched against Ethan Osborne in the Southern Boone game."
Richards easily retired the first four batters he faced, but Ian Nolph reached on a two-base error to get things going for Blair Oaks in the second inning.
"I was just going to sit on the fastball, wait for him to throw me one," Nolph said. "I got to a count where I almost knew he was going to throw me one, he did and I just put a piece of the bat on it."
Levi Haney drew a walk, with Nolph advancing to third on the wild pitch for ball four. Moments later, Richards threw to first base and had Haney picked off, but the Blair Oaks senior stayed in a rundown long enough to allow Nolph to steal home and beat the tag by Hollister catcher Cole Jones, giving the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
"You play baseball long enough that you can kind of feel a play out," Nolph said. "At that point, I just felt like it was time to go home, make a play and get the boys going."
The next batter, Josh Isaacs, drew a walk, and Blair Oaks followed that with another successful double-steal, putting two runners in scoring position. Gavin Wekenborg struck out, but the ball hit the ground on strike three, forcing a throw to first base for the putout. Haney came in to score from third, doubling the lead to 2-0.
Dylan Hair was hit by a pitch, and the next pitch to Lane Libbert got to the backstop, allowing Isaacs to score from third to give the Falcons a three-run lead.
"We've got kids that are competitors, and they find ways (to score)," DeMilia said. "We just make plays when we have to."
Reid Dudenhoeffer singled to right field in the third inning for Blair Oaks' first hit. The Falcons' other hit came in the fourth, when Hair reached on an infield single that just missed Richards' glove.
Wil Libbert won his sixth consecutive start on the mound, walking one and striking out 10. He reached his 95-pitch count limit with one out in the sixth.
"He's just composed all the time," DeMilia said of Libbert, who improved his pitching record to 8-1 and finished his season with a 1.73 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 56 innings.
"He really got in a rhythm there in the middle innings. Unfortunately, his pitch count got high. I was hoping to get him through the sixth, but you can't say anything more for him shutting that team out for 5 innings and being a sophomore."
Stockman entered the game in the sixth and stranded runners on first and second for the Falcons.
In the bottom of the seventh, Hollister's Ethan Wright drew a leadoff walk, and after a flyout, he scored on Konner Hatfield's triple to left-center field. Four pitches later, Richard crushed a triple to straightaway center field, scoring Hatfield to make it a 3-2 game.
"Baseball's a crazy game," DeMilia said. "Things can change at the drop of the hat."
Hollister had the tying run on third base, but Stockman buckled down and got a groundout back to the pitcher and pop-up to Dudenhoeffer, the Blair Oaks first baseman, in foul territory to end the game.
Dudenhoeffer also had to make a big play on Stockman's throw to first base, which was a bit off-target, for the second out.
"Reid really saved me on that," Stockman said.
It was Stockman's first save since April 26 against Hallsville. In 1 2/3 innings, he gave up two runs on two hits with two walks and one strikeout.
"For me, it's always been, 'Forget the last pitch, get to the next one,'" Stockman said. "As long as you're still winning, you're still playing. You've just got to keep going."
Richards pitched five innings for Hollister, giving up three runs on two hits while walking three and striking out 11. Hatfield had the only mulithit game for either team, adding a first-inning bunt single.
Hollister (25-6), ranked No. 8 in Class 4, will play St. Joseph Lafayette (19-8) in the third-place game at 4 p.m. today.