OZARK — The Linn Wildcats are making the 2021 postseason look like a walk in the park.
Winning each of its four games by at least four runs, Linn rolled right along Wednesday in the Class 3 state semifinals. Andy Hueste pitched a three-hitter and Austin McKim drove in three runs, as the Wildcats run-ruled the Elsberry Indians for a 10-0 win in six innings at U.S. Baseball Park.
"These guys have just worked their butts off these last three weeks," said Hueste, who walked two and struck out seven in a complete-game effort. "They're dogs, they battle, and I think that's what coach really instilled in us, to battle under pressure and just perform."
After losing in the semifinals in two previous Final Four appearances, Linn (16-9) will play today in the program's first state championship contest. Game time is 1:30 p.m. against the St. Pius X: Kansas City Warriors (22-3), who defeated Jefferson: Festus 4-1 in Wednesday's first semifinal game.
"It means everything to me," Linn first-year head coach Briar Hancock said. "We've been working since I came here in the summer of last year, working for this goal. That's what we set, and we knew it was attainable.
"I'm excited for this community, because they've been rallying around us since the start."
Elsberry (17-7) will open today's action against Jefferson: Festus (17-9) in the third-place game at 11 a.m.
The Wildcats have won their five postseason games by an average of 8.4 runs, winning three of them by run-rule.
"It definitely keeps me from getting more gray hairs," Hancock said. "Since districts, the bats have been on fire."
Linn was the guest on the scoreboard and scored in five of the game's six innings. Cleanup batter Austin McKim singled up the middle in the first inning, scoring Caden Robinson and Aidan Kline to put the Wildcats ahead 2-0.
McKim reached base in all five plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with three singles and two walks.
"The momentum that hit brought us was tremendous," Hancock said.
The momentum Hueste and the Linn defense created in the bottom of the first may have been the game's most crucial point.
Kaden Kinsler hit a leadoff triple to left-center field for Elsberry and Joel Mound followed with a walk, putting runners on the corners. However, Mound took off early for second base and was caught stealing, Hueste struck out the next batter and then got a groundout to keep the score 2-0.
"You've really got to battle through, that's pitching," Hueste said. "You're going to give up hits, and you can't change your mentality at all. You can't get down. And after something like that, you feel confident."
Linn left three runners on base in the second for the second straight inning, but the Wildcats added to their lead in the third when Keagan Heywood doubled to deep center field and scored on a standup triple down the left-field line by Matthew Nenninger.
Leading 3-0 after three innings, Linn added two more runs in the fourth, scoring on an outfield error and a wild pitch.
The Wildcats were aggressive on the basepaths, stealing seven bases in the win. On top of that, they successfully executed three hit-and-run scenarios.
"In the regular season, we see some pretty good catchers, so these guys understand how to read the ball and how to read off the catcher," Hancock said.
In the fifth, Nenninger scored on a wild pitch, while McKim and Heywood each had RBI singles to stretch the Linn lead to 8-0. Hueste and Kline both scored on wild pitches in the sixth to give the Wildcats a 10-run lead.
Hueste faced another tough situation in the sixth with the bases loaded and one out. However, McKim picked a runner off second base with a throw from the plate, then Hueste got a strikeout looking to end the game.
"He was very efficient, and he got (the job) done," Hancock said.
Hueste was able to get several ground-ball outs in the first three innings, as the Wildcats played error-less ball behind him.
"My two-seam (fastball) had a lot of movement on it today," Hueste said. "I was working really well with that. The curveball and the slider were really moving, and I was really pinpointing them in the sectional game against Forsyth."
Elsberry used four pitchers in the loss. Sean Phillips was the losing pitcher, as he gave up three runs on six hits with six walks and three strikeouts in 2 innings.
Heywood went 3-for-3 for the Wildcats, reaching base in all four plate appearances, while Kline added a pair of singles in a 10-hit attack.
Hancock said either Kaleb Brandt or Heywood will pitch today for Linn against seventh-ranked St. Pius X: Kansas City. Both players pitched in last Friday's quarterfinal win against Skyline.
"All we wanted was an opportunity, and we got it and we're here," Hueste said.