Tigers claw way to history

Exeter wins first-ever district championship

By Kyle Troutman ktroutman@cassville-democrat.com

Wednesday afternoon in Hurley, the Exeter baseball team experienced a, “Wow, that just happened,” moment.

Down by 2 early and trailing 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh in the Class 1, District 5 title bout, the Tigers (15-8) plated a pair of runs and brought the game to a final out. A mid-range fly ball tested right fielder Kronikel Lokot, but the senior snagged the catch to win Exeter its first-ever district championship.

“It was the classic surreal feeling,” Tripp said. “When you work so hard for something, seven years in my case here, and you’re so close so many times…to finally get it was like, ‘Wow, that just happened.’ I don’t want to take any of our accomplishments for granted, and runner-up is an accomplishment, but when you start stacking those up, you really want to win one.”

A pitcher’s duel moved the contest along early, with Billings scoring the first two runs and Exeter tying it. In the fifth inning, Billings pulled ahead again, leading Tripp to make a change on the mound and replace his frequent starter this season, senior Zach Lee.

“They got the go-ahead, and he was tired with the top of their lineup coming,” Tripp said. “We’ve had the same two starters most of the season, and I burned our other one the night before in a pitcher’s duel with Hurley. So, I went with a guy that can throw some junk.”

Also a senior, Zinn had thrown more junior varsity innings this season than varsity, but when his number was called, he rose to the occasion.

“He made a mess in the sixth but got out of it, and we knew we had to score in the seventh,” Tripp said. 

Exeter got the tying run, then a bunt and back-to-back mistakes by Billings allowed sophomore Ed Lokot to score on a hit by freshman Coy Aldridge, who got on first when the throw went over the first baseman’s head.

Exeter almost had another run but settled for going into the final inning with the single-run lead.

“It was the seven-eight-nine in the lineup for them,” Tripp said. “Morgan struck out the first kid, and the second was a can of corn to right field. Their No. 9 hit a ball into no-man’s land, where you don’t know if your second baseman or outfielder will get it, but Kronikel Lokot made the catch.”

The catch propelled the Tigers past a string of second-place plaques. In the five previous seasons, Exeter had fallen in the final four times, most recently to 2022, where the game was similar in location, opponent and final score — but not the final result.

“We played Billings in the championship at Hurley two years ago and had it in the palm of our hand, [but a mental mistake] made it go the other way,” Tripp said. “It’s nice to be on the other side of that, and on the same ballfield against the same team.”

Tripp said the historic win was a team effort, having to dig themselves out of two deficits. Zinn, however, earned an extra pat on the back.

“Morgan has basically thrown JV games this season, so to step up at that time and throw how he did was really impressive to me,” Tripp said.

Exeter now moves on to the 16-team state tournament, facing Lockwood on the road Monday. The time of the game is to be determined.

Lockwood is 14-6 this season and has one win this season over the Tigers, a 13-2 decision in Exeter on March 28. The winner of that Class 1, Sectional 3 contest will face the winner of Wheatland (24-9) and Halfway (24-5) in the Class 1 quarterfinals.