To say that Saturday was a good day for the Neosho County American Legion team would be putting it mildly.
The first-year program enjoyed a 9-0 victory over Yates Center in the opener of the Iola Tournament.
Then the true test of the day came.
The Neosho County team was begun primarily with the intention to give Humboldt players more of an opportunity to play had they signed on with Iola or Chanute teams.
Iola and Chanute have cherry-picked Humboldt players to add to their squads. Chanute grabbed former Cubs Jake Haviland and Corey Whitcomb while Iola took younger players like Daylon Splane and Lance Daniels.
That dynamic puts Neosho County in a tough spot with a core of Humboldt players, but then having to fill the gaps with other area players.
For seven innings on Saturday, Neosho County showed Iola that they shouldn’t be an overlooked group and shocked the Indians with a 9-7 victory.
“I’m really excited about this win for the boys,” Neosho County coach Cody Lassman said. “They have worked hard all year and it hasn’t always gone our way, but today, it went our way.”
Neosho County took an early 2-0 lead with a triple by Jackson Aikens and that lead grew to 5-1 in the third with an RBI double by Wyatt Seufert highlighting the scoring.
“It feels good to beat them,” Seufert said. “We had played them two times already, but it felt good to make a statement.”
Meanwhile, Seufert cruised through the first couple innings on the mound.
“My off-speed pitches were struggling today, so I was just trying to paint the corners,” Seufert said.
Iola got to him in the third inning with a three-run inning to cut the margin to 5-4 with the big hit being a two-run double from Derek Bycroft.
The Indians kept clawing with a run in the fifth and a run in the sixth inning to take their first lead at 6-5 with an inning to go.
Then Neosho County had its inning to remember.
“Being a young team, it felt good that we didn’t tuck our heads and roll over,” Seufert said. “We’ve done that multiple times this year so we just told ourselves that we were going to stay in it, win or lose.”
After Neosho County scored five runs in three innings off starter Kane Rogers, Second Team All-State pitcher Ben Cooper threw up three shutout innings to allow Iola to take the lead.
In the seventh, Neosho County found its groove against Cooper though.
Josh Vanatta singled in the first run with one out to tie the game, then Aikens untied it by reaching on an error.
A Seufert double scored Aikens and a Dagen Goodner single plated Seufert to get Neosho County a 9-6 lead.
“It felt really good to close them out,” Aikens said. “It was a little scary when they scored, but we were able to finish it. We stuck together and got it.”
Iola got one back in the seventh, but Aikens closed it out to give Neosho County its biggest win of its existence.
“It speaks volumes about these guys,” Lassman said.
Aikens, Seufert, and Goodner each finished with a team-high two hits.
Neosho County couldn’t continue that momentum though and lost to the Kansas City Naturals, 8-2, in their final pool-play game and then lost the rematch with Iola 11-5 in bracket-play.
Neosho County prepares for their Zone Tournament beginning July 13.