Claremore junior pitcher Bryce Howe didn’t have his best outing on the mound, but his bat made up for it in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Howe’s two-out solo homer sparked the Class 5A No. 2-ranked Zebras to a 9-5 win over 5A No. 10 Coweta Friday night in Metro Lakes Conference action at Legion Field.
The win improved Claremore to 15-3 overall and 7-0 in conference.
“The kids really gutted one out today,” Claremore head coach Brent Payne said. “Give credit to Coweta, they came in and competed hard.”
Claremore took the early 3-0 lead in the bottom half of the first, thanks to Isaac Hollihan’s solo homer and an RBI-triple by Jacob Teague. Matt Whatley also contributed with an RBI-single as the Zebras provided a cushion for ace pitcher Howe.
“We came out on fire, getting three quick runs in the first to back up our pitcher,” Payne said.
“Our kids believe that with Bryce (Howe) on the mound, sometimes three runs may be all it takes to win a game.
“Unfortunately, it took more than that tonight.”
Howe, who tossed four innings in a no decison, faced a competitive Coweta lineup that was tough to conquer.
Coweta’s Ty Gunter led the Tigers’ offense with a 3-for-4 outing and four RBIs.
After Howe mowed down the Tigers in the first, Coweta answered in the top half of the second to tie the game at 3-3.
Coweta pitcher Hayden Holmes led off the inning with a towering double over the head of Claremore left fielder Brandon Varnell.
Two batters later, Colton Martin sent Howe’s fastball over the head of Claremore center fielder (Jacob) Teague and plated Holmes with two out to trim the deficit to 3-1.
After Mason Banfield reached on the fielding error, Gunter ripped Howe’s curveball to deep left-center field for a two-run double that knotted the game at 3-3.
Both pitchers — Holmes and Howe — tossed scoreless third innings, and Coweta took command in the top half of the fourth.
After the leadoff single by Jake Honel, Howe delivered a 2-2 curveball that caught Martin looking for the strikeout.
One batter later, Banfield delivered a double over Teague in center field and advanced Honel to third base.
Just like the second inning, Gunter provided the ‘big’ hit for Coweta.
On the first pitch from Howe, Gunter scorched a two-run double down the left field line to score Honel and Banfield, giving Coweta the 5-3 lead.
The ‘tug-of-war’ battle continued in the bottom of the fourth with the Zebras rallying to tie the game at 5-5.
A leadoff walk to Matt Whatley followed by a one-out single by Andrew Byington pushed runners in scoring position for the Zebras.
Brandon Varnell loaded the bases with a single and Cole Weiesnbach plated Whatley on the RBI-single between the mound and first base.
Trailing 5-4, T.J. Wood’s fielder’s choice to third base resulted in a 5-2 putout at the plate, and then an errant throw down the first base line by Coweta catcher Dakota Remington, allowing Varnell to score to knot the game at 5-5.
Claremore opened the top half of the fifth with relief pitcher Dalton Clifton taking over for Howe, who had seven strikeouts on six hits with one walk and five runs allowed.
Clifton notched his first conference win of the season, tossing two innings and holding Coweta scoreless.
Ryan Clark led off the fifth reaching first base on the fielding error, and then was forced out on the 6-4 flip from a diving Weiesnbach to second baseman T.J. Wood.
Clifton retired Holmes on a strikeout and got Jake Northern to fly out to Hollihan in right to cap the inning.
“I thought a key element in the game was the way Dalton (Clifton) came in and stabilized their lineup,” Payne said.
“He never got rattled and bulldogged it out there.”
Claremore tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI-single by Byington and a sacrifice RBI flyout by Varnell.
“We had some big at-bats late in the game — Byington’s single and Howe’s homer — that gave us a spark to finish this thing off.”
Clifton worked through the sixth — getting out of a jam with runners on first and second for Coweta.
After singles to Banfield and Gunter, Clifton got help from Wood on a 4-6 putout and then struck out Jakeem Johnson and Remington to close out the inning.
Claremore’s sixth proved to be the nail in the coffin as Howe’s third homer of the season made it 8-5 and Whatley’s RBI-single drove in Teague to seal the win at 9-5.
Teague pitched a scoreless seventh and finished with one strikeout and one walk.
Claremore returns to Metro Lakes Conference action on Monday at 4 p.m. at Collinsville.