HHS senior starters gather with the sun-drenched runner-up plaque after the Class 3 District 9 championship game Thursday at Tiger Field. From left, Garyn Hall, Danny Vanable, Austin Goetz, Ryan Wolfe and Casey Merckling. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

When two good baseball rivals meet in a championship situation, the result is often an intense, ultra-competitive game.

That was the case Thursday at Tiger Field in Houston, as Houston fell to Licking, 6-4, in the final of the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3 District 9 Tournament.

“We had our chances,” said HHS head coach Brent Hall. “We were right there in position to do it; it just wasn’t in the cards.”

Seeded second in the event’s 5-team field, the Diamond Tigers took an early lead over the top-seeded Wildcats with 2 runs in the top of the first inning.

Senior Danny Venable got things started with a 1-out walk off of Licking junior starting pitcher Kellar Davis, and crossed the plate moments later when junior Wyatt Hughes hammered the ball to the base of the fence in left-center field for an RBI double. Hughes then scored when senior Ryan Wolfe drilled a single up the middle to put Houston ahead 2-0.

The Wildcats cut the deficit in half in the third inning. With 2 outs and nobody on, Houston starter Shaun Buck, a sophomore, issued 2 free passes and Licking junior first baseman followed with an RBI single to right field.

The Wildcats evened the score at 2-all in the fifth inning, loading the bases with no outs on 2 singles and a walk and then getting a run on another walk. But the Tigers kept the damage to a minimum thanks to an athletic catch of a pop fly made by Venable in foul territory behind first base and a pair of strikeouts served up by Buck.

But Licking broke through in the fifth inning, scoring 4 runs on 4 hits off of relief pitcher Venable. Junior Stone Jackson then came in to get the final 2 outs in the frame.

Showing no quit, the Tigers made things extremely interesting in the top of the seventh inning, scoring twice off of Licking’s 6-3 junior closer Rusty Buckner.

With the bases empty and 2 away, Hughes walked and senior Casey Merckling singled to right to put runners at the corners. Wolfe then smacked an RBI single to left and Jackson sent an RBI single to center, and the margin was cut to 6-4. But Buckner stopped the bleeding with a strikeout and the Wildcats celebrated with a dogpile between the mound and home plate.

In 6 full innings of work for Licking, Davis allowed 6 hits while fanning 11 and walking 2.

Pitching on the biggest stage in his career, Buck worked 5 full innings, allowing 4 hits and 2 earned runs while striking out 2 and walking 6. Houston’s top two pitchers – Hall and Hughes – were unavailable in the contest due to pitch count rules.

HHS sophomore Shaun Buck prepares to deliver a pitch during his 5 innings of work in the district tournament final.

“I was very impressed with what Shaun did as a sophomore,” coach Hall said.

The lack of strikeouts kept Houston fielders busy, and they responded with an error-free effort to keep the squad in the game. In the bottom of the first, Licking got a runner aboard with no outs, but the Tigers turned a 1-6-3 double play when Buck gloved a comebacker and tossed the ball to shortstop Garyn Hall at second base, who relayed to Jackson at first just in time.

Before the inning was over, the Wildcats loaded the bases on an infield single and a pair of walks, but the threat ended when Hall snagged a sharp line drive before it reached the outfield.

Both teams had 9 hits in the game. Jackson went 3-for-4 at the plate and drove in a run, while Wolfe went 2-for-3 with a walk and 2 RBIs.

The Tigers left 8 runners on base in the game, including 4 in scoring position.

“We had several chances,” coach Hall said, “but we couldn’t get the key hit at the right time.”

HHS senior Garyn Hall slides safely into third base in the top of the fifth inning to set an all-time career steals record in Missouri high school baseball.

Garyn Hall stole 2 bases in the contest to raise his season total to a school record 49 and set a new Missouri high school baseball all-time career stolen base record (all classes) with 122.


To reach the final, the Diamond Tigers downed third-seeded Mansfield in a semifinals matchup on Wednesday, 3-2, in 8 innings.

Hughes and Garyn Hall recorded a combined no-hitter in the contest, with Hughes striking out 14 and walking 2 in 5 2/3 innings and Hall fanning 4 and walking none in 2 1/3 innings.

The Tigers’ less-than-stellar defense helped keep the Lions in the game by officially committing 6 errors and making several other mistakes that didn’t add to that total. Houston led 2-1 going into the seventh inning, but Mansfield (12-11) got a run on 3 errors and a fielder’s choice. Two of the errors came after 2 outs, including a miscue that allowed a run to score.

Garyn Hall scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning, getting on base with a single, advancing to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Venable, stealing third and then coming home when Mansfield’s catcher threw the ball past the third baseman and into left field.

Houston finished the season with an overall record of 20-5.

“I was really proud of the way the boys went out,” coach Hall said.

HHS head coach Brent Hall addresses his team following a loss to Licking in the Class 3 District 9 championship game.

The Tigers’ starting lineup in the contest featured eight upperclassmen, including five seniors (Hall, Merckling, Venable, Wolfe, and Austin Goetz).

“They’ve come a long way,” coach Hall said. “They’ve been doing it since they were old enough to play and they made great strides. They’re the ones to attribute to our success, because they put in the work.”

The 2023 season was coach Hall’s 26th at the helm of Houston baseball.

Licking beat No. 4 Liberty 10-0 in the district semifinals. The Wildcats (23-6) hosted a Class 3 state tournament game on Tuesday (May 23) against District 10 champion Forsyth (20-7).

HHS senior Danny Venable delivers a pitch during the sixth inning.
HHS junior Stone Jackson delivers a pitch during the sixth inning.
Avatar photo

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply