Tibbs, Mules end Jackson's record-setting season to win 3rd district title
HILLSBORO, Mo. -- This time it was Poplar Bluff's turn to celebrate.
At the bottom of a maroon dogpile following an 8-0 win over Jackson in the MSHSAA Class 5 District 1 championship game was Tanner Tibbs. The senior tossed a three-hit shutout and pushed across the first run of the game with a bases-loaded walk.
In winning their second title in four years, the Mules put behind them a 1-4 start to this season and a disappointing end from a year ago.
"Last year was a heartbreaker," said Tibbs of a semifinal upset that ended a 25-win season. "We knew we didn't want to go through that again so we kept pushing ourselves."
Poplar Bluff got the diving catch to save a run and escape a first-inning jam, ran hard down the line to beat a throw by the pitcher and did just about everything else right to knock off the defending champs.
"Things went well for us," Mules coach Steven Edwards said. "I couldn't be any prouder of this bunch right now."
The Mules (20-5) will host the District 2 champions --Rockwood Summit (25-4) or Oakville (19-7) --on Tuesday, May 23. It will be the first state playoff game Poplar Bluff has hosted with the Mules looking to reach the quarterfinal for the first time.
"We just know that we play defense and we put a couple of runs together we can beat anybody in the state," senior Michael Anagnostopoulos said.
Jackson had a record-breaking 23-8 season end shy of a third-straight district title.
"When you go into a championship game this is what you expect," Jackson coach Bryan Austin said. "You have a bad inning but that doesn't justify an entire season of a positive season."
The Mules gave Tibbs a five-run cushion in the second inning after helping him wiggle out of a jam.
Cole Welker led off the bottom of the first with a single and was on third base with one out when Braedon Dobbs hit a 2-2 pitch to the opposite field. Anagnostopoulos made a diving catch running in from left field, forcing Welker to stay a third.
Tibbs then got a flyout to right field.
"That's huge," Tibbs said. "I gave him a hug after that, told him I love him."
"It's big to score first in a game like this so I just had to save a run," Anagnostopoulos said. "That's all there is to it."
Anagnostopoulos, who missed the fall soccer season with a knee injury, batted second in the next half inning. He followed a double off the right-field wall by Turner Fritts with a single through the left side.
With runners at the corners, Matt Lambert hit the ball back at starting pitcher Jarrett Newell, who knocked it down but threw late to first base, loading the bases.
"Lambert hustled all the way down the line and got on," Edwards said. "It's just pulling from the same end of the rope and guys believe in it. It all came together."
Tibbs, hitting eighth, drew a five-pitch walk to push across the first run.
Austin McIntosh, a .371 hitter in the regular season, plugged the left-field gap for a two-run double and a 3-0 Mules lead.
"It's no secret," Edwards said. "I like to think (Nos.) 1-9 is a tough out for us."
Jared Moses drew a full-count walk to load the bases again with no outs before Ronin Rice's sacrifice fly to center added a run. Tyson Cox made it 5-0 with an RBI single through the left side, ending Newell's day on the mound.
Drew Brown needed just three pitches to limit the damage, getting a grounder to third baseman Dobbs for a double play.
"That was a huge relief," Lambert said. "I think it gave Tanner some confidence to pitch with. That was huge for us."
Tibbs and his defense made it stick.
The senior lefty struck out four, walked three and hit a batter. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the second following a pair of errors with a pair of strikeouts.
"He did a great job of spotting his pitches," Austin said of Tibbs. "He located three pitches for strikes. I felt like we didn't chase very often, felt really good about our discipline at the plate."
Jackson was shut out for just the third time in a season in which the Indians set offensive team records and a high-mark for wins. They came in averaging 8.1 runs per game with a record 255.
"The zero doesn't do us justice," Austin said. "They hit the baseball extremely well today. It was just right at people."
The Mules snared two liners up the middle for outs and another at third base.
In the fifth, Welker got his second hit and Newell followed with a walk with one out. Tibbs got a grounder under a leaping Welker that Cox fielded at short to start a double play.
The Mules added three runs with a two-out rally in the seventh.
Fritts started it with a walk before an RBI double by Anagnostopoulos to the left-field gap. Lambert's RBI single and a hit by Tibbs was followed by an RBI hit by McIntosh that put the Mules up 8-0 before Jackson threw out the runner trying to go from first to third.
Brown had retired nine straight and finished with six strikeouts to keep the Indians within striking distance.
Two years ago, Jackson celebrated with a dogpile after ending Poplar Bluff's then-record season with a 2-1 win despite getting out-hit 6-4 and striking out 10 times. The Indians made it two in a row after the Mules were stunned in the semifinal by Cape Central last year.
This spring, Poplar Bluff started 1-4 and were knocked from the state rankings. But the Mules won 18 of 19 to end the regular season, including a 5-3 win over the Indians on April 24.
Jackson ended up with the top seed but it didn't matter to the Mules, who knew they'd have to face the Indians in the final anyway, Anagnostopoulos said.
"I didn't think I was going to be able to make it back for this," said Anagnostopoulos of coming back from an injury. "Just playing with these guys one last time. It's good to keep winning, for our senior season to get a district championship --just proud of all the guys."