Dan Wehmer - Publisher's Pen

Dan Wehmer - Publisher's Pen

It was a Friday night.

April 26, to be exact.

The site was Neelyville, a town of less than 500 people with one gas station and without a grocery store.

Seymour’s varsity baseball team was playing the host school.

The Tigers were the top seed.

Neelyville was seeded eighth.

And Neelyville entered the game with one win.

Tiger tragedy followed.

In the game that followed,

Seymour committed eight errors, which led to 14 unearned runs.

The Tigers lost 14-11.

For those who were present, the host team celebrated like they had won the World Series.

Seymour was in shock.

The Tigers’ effort was so bad that after the third inning, head coach Jason Duey had his team sprint from the dugout to the right-field fence, his not-so-subtle way of letting his squad know he wasn’t happy with the effort.

That loss dropped the team’s record to 10-7.

Lost was the opportunity the next morning to face a Doniphan pitcher with a 93-mile-per-hour fastball committed to play college baseball at the University of Alabama.

About an hour later, the question was posed by team members, “Where are we eating supper, Coach Duey?”

His answer?

“Not with me.”

Next door to the Holiday Inn Express in Poplar Bluff was a McDonald’s. That’s where the ballclub dined that night.

Duey made his players walk to dinner.

He stayed in his room.

(However, it should be noted that he did walk with them to McDonald’s before leaving.)

As this column is written, the events described above occurred a month ago.

The Tigers haven’t lost a game since.

Seymour rebounded the next day in Neelyville to defeat Twin Rivers and Naylor, respectively, to take the tourney’s fifth-place plaque.

Wins continued.

Three more came in the regular season, giving Seymour a 15-7 spring record entering the Class 2, District 5 Tournament,

where the Tigers were seeded second.

Another three wins came in district play.

Two of them came by a combined three runs.

In Class 2 sectional action, Seymour faced a 24-1 Purdy squad that had won 23 straight games.

The Tigers won 3-2.

Next came quarterfinal play last Wednesday, May 22, versus Liberal.

Seymour cruised to a 10-3 victory.

Since the infamous “McDonald’s magic,” the Tigers have won 10 consecutive games.

For the first time in program history, a district title was won.

A sectional game was won.

A quarterfinal game was won.

All firsts.

And now Seymour’s Tigers are in the Class 2 “Final Four” in O’Fallon, uncharted territory for the program.

At the helm is Duey, who inherited a 7-17 team in his first year as head coach, took that squad to a .500 mark, then won 20 games and a Summit Conference championship for the first time since 1987 in year two.

This year, his third as head coach, Seymour again has won 20 games and is headed to the state semifinals, with a realistic shot at a state title with two more victories.

Why not add another first? In this instance, a first state team championship.

Duey’s body of work is a three-year project.

His boys have bought in to the program.

The results have energized our town of 2,000.

But in retrospect, my mind keeps taking me back to Neelyville and that 14-11 debacle, certainly the low point of the Tigers’ season.

At that point, Seymour easily could have slid to a .500 season or worse.

Instead, they’ve been stellar.

I’m not in charge of meal arrangements in O’Fallon, but something tells me that at least one meal today (Wednesday) needs to occur under the “Golden Arches.”

Even if it’s just for an apple pie.

Dan Wehmer is the Citizen’s editor, publisher and owner.

He can be reached at 417-935-2257 or via e-mail at citizen@webstercountycitizen.com.

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