Earlier this season, Ethan Guilford nearly went the distance and stifled a talented Webb City offense.
A few weeks later, Guilford was back in action.
The right-hander went the distance and held a dangerous Carl Junction lineup at bay as Joplin picked up a 9-3 Central Ozark Conference victory over the Bulldogs on Tuesday night at the JHS Sports Complex.
“In college, they talk about your Friday night starter,” Eagles coach Kyle Wolf said. “Ethan’s our Tuesday starter. He tries to head up the week for us, and he’s done a good job all year against some really good teams. He was at his best today. He was keeping the ball down. He was throwing the slider for strikes. He was spotting some things up. He gets up (in the zone) every once in a while, and at times, we have to remind him to stay down at the knees. When he is down at the knees, he is really good.”
Guilford limited Carl Junction to six hits and two earned runs while striking out five and walking one. The junior, who threw the Bulldogs off balance with a hard, diving slider, threw 90 pitches (68 for strikes) and yielded six groundouts and nine flyouts.
“It felt great,”Guilford said. “My stuff was working well. My team was behind me. It was a great all-around team performance. My slider was working tonight. In the past, it hasn’t been moving much, but tonight, the slider was working. I probably threw that 50% of the time. It was really good.”
The win kept Joplin (15-9, 6-2 COC) in a tie with Webb City, a 8-1 victor over Neosho, for second-place in the COC standings.
Two-out magic proved to be the Eagles’ bread-and-butter on offense against Carl Junction.
Joplin scored seven of its nine runs — five in the third inning — with two outs. It all started when Kohl Cooper blasted a solo home run to right field with two outs in the first to trim the Eagles’ deficit to 2-1.
Justin McReynolds tied the game with an RBI single with no outs in the second. Alex Curry ignited Joplin’s two-out rally in the third, giving the Eagles a 3-2 lead with an RBI single to right.
David Fiscus followed with an RBI double before McReynolds cleared the bases with a two-run triple to center. Guilford capped the big inning for Joplin, helping his own cause with an RBI single to make it 7-2.
“I say it all the time: Two-out hits win games,” Wolf said. “It ignites you, and it’s deflating to the other team when you come up with those hits in those situations. The guys had some really good at-bats throughout the game.”
Oh, and Guilford dialed it in. He retired 18 of the final 24 batters he faced after the first inning.
“I had trouble in the past about keeping my composure after things don’t go my way,” Guilford said. “After that first inning, I knew I would have to go back out there and compete if I wanted to stay in. Every time I pitch against a good team, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to go as long as I can and give my team the best chance to win games.”
Joplin’s lead swelled to 9-2 following an RBI single by Carson Wampler and Bodee Carlson scoring on a fielding error.
In the seventh inning, Carson Johnson launched a solo home run out to left for Carl Junction to account for the final scoring margin.
The Eagles finished with 12 hits, paced by Cooper and McReynolds with two each.
Alex Baker led the Bulldogs (14-8, 3-4 COC) with a 2-for-3 performance with a run scored. Drew Beyer took the loss after allowing seven earned runs on nine hits over four innings of work.
“I thought we came out with a good approach early against a good arm,” Bulldogs coach Jake Stevenson said. “We did some nice things. We just had a bad inning. If we can minimize that five-spot and turn it into a one- or two-spot, you feel like offensively we could get some confidence as well. We are an experienced group, so hopefully, we’re able to overcome some things tomorrow and get back on track, play well the rest of the way.”
Games at 4:30 p.m. Thursday have Joplin hosting Willard and Carl Junction hosting Branson.
“This conference is so good,” Wolf said. “Every night, you have to come out and you have to play well. As we get into this last stretch, you hope we are playing our best baseball. That’s what we said at the beginning of the year. That’s what we have been working towards all season long.”