(DUSTIN WARD ~ Daily Dunklin Democrat)
"We moved Bryce up from the No. 9 hole to the No. 2 hole," Johnson said about Wallace, who is a first-year starter for Dunklin County. "He's really responded well with that since we made the move."
Wallace ignited Dunklin County's offense once again Saturday afternoon with the regular-season District 14 title on the line in the first game of a doubleheader against Ford & Sons Cape Girardeau Post 63.
Wallace collected a leadoff double in the bottom of the fourth inning. It was Dunklin County's first hit of the game off Post 63 starting pitcher Travis Smith.
Logan Carter followed Wallace's double by hammering an RBI single past third base and into left field to put Dunklin County on top 1-0.
(DUSTIN WARD ~ Daily Dunklin Democrat)
Dunklin County tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth inning.
"A play here or there could have allowed the game to go either way," Johnson said. "Justin Norman made a heck of a play in center field with runners in scoring position. Hunter Cook made a play in right on a ball hit pretty deep, and Dustin Spencer threw a guy out at the plate from left. Our outfield play was outstanding today."
Post 63 put runners on base in every inning except the sixth. It stranded 10 baserunners and had a runner thrown out at the plate with two outs in the fourth inning.
"We had chances early," Cape coach Steve Williams said. "We had two guys on one inning and bases loaded in another inning in the first three innings. We just couldn't cash in. Any time you are playing a good club like Dunklin County, you have got to cash in even if it is just one run.
Watkins struck out four over seven innings. The 2011 Cooter graduate has allowed just one run over 12 innings this season.
"We've kind of been holding him off the mound," Johnson said. "I thought he threw a great game today and showed a lot of heart. He kept their hitters off-balance and let his defense help him. He is as good as any pitcher in the district when he gets ready to pitch, and he's nice to have on the roster."
Watkins received big help from his defense in the fourth and fifth innings. Cape threatened to score the first run of the game in the fourth when Alex McRaven collected a two-out single to left field. Logan Henson, who reached base at the start of the fourth when he was hit by a pitch, attempted to score from second on McRaven's single. Dunklin County left fielder Dustin Spencer gunned a strike to Carter, who tagged out Henson several feet in front of home plate.
"It was a bang-bang play," Carter said. "I knew Spencer had the arm to get it there because he did the same thing last season against Festus. I had faith he could get the ball to me in time."
Dunklin County center fielder Justin Norman recorded the final out in the fifth when he dived inward on a ball hit to shallow center. Cape had runners at first and second when Norman made the play.
"That's one run for sure," Williams said. "If it would have got by him, we could have scored two."
Cape failed to record a hit after the fifth inning.
Smith suffered a complete-game loss. He allowed two runs on four hits and struck out one over six innings.
"Travis pitched a great game today and deserved a better fate," Williams said. "He pitched good today and has pitched well for us all season."
Dunklin County finished regular-season District 14 play with a 5-1 record. It will be the No. 1 seed in the four-team district tournament that begins Friday in Jackson.
Jackson finished 4-2 in the district and will open against Cape (3-3).
"It's any team's district," Williams said. "All four teams are solid. I think three of the four teams probably have a little better chance, and any one of those teams could probably win it."
Dunklin County won the second game of Saturday's doubleheader 3-2 in eight innings.
Aaron Wendel suffered the loss.