O’FALLON, Mo. - With one swing of the bat, Blue Springs South designated hitter Cale Benson gave his teammates something to smile about. He drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Jaguars a 2-1 Class 5 third-place victory over Vianney in the 65th annual Missouri State High School Activities Association Baseball Championship.
Before Benson’s hit, the Jaguars scored just 1 run in 15 innings after being shutout 2-0 Thursday night against Columbia Rock Bridge.
They manufactured a run in the bottom of the fifth Friday to knot the score at 1-all and won it when Reece Eddins and Patrick Lemberger singled to begin the bottom of the ninth off reliever Joe Manley.
“I hit it right down the right-field line and knew it was a hit once it left my bat,” said Benson, who reached base four times on three hits and an infield error. “What’s really special about the hit is that Reece has been my best friend forever, and when he was on second, he yelled out that I was going to get the hit. Seeing him score the run was more special than getting the hit.
“This isn’t the game we wanted to be in today, we wanted to be playing for the championship, but this win sure feels good.”
Austin Simms pitched 7-2/3 innings before turning the ball over to Conner Davis in the top of the ninth. South coach Ben Baier made sure that all 10 seniors played in the game and let Caleb Humphreys pitch to the final batter in the sixth inning.
“Coach talked to me about getting Caleb in the game, and if he hadn’t thought of it, I would have suggested it,” said Simms, who allowed seven hits and one earned run. “The seniors on this team are so special and Coach Baier got each one of them into our biggest win of the season. That’s why I love this team and the coaches so much. We’re all about team, not about each other.”
Simms allowed his lone run in the top of the first when Brendan Madden singled and went to third on Chris Cornelius’ single. Madden then scored on Keanan Davila’s sacrifice fly.
“We got a gutsy performance from Austin today,” Baier said. “He knew we were struggling offensively and went out and pitched the second great game down here. We made one error and allowed just two earned runs in 15 innings. I’ll take that every year.”
South used some trickery to knot the score in the fifth when Benson opened the inning with a double.
He went to third on a Jacob Clark single, setting up a play that had many fans scratching their heads.
“We have a play we’ve been working on for a while where the runner on first, with a runner on third, gets picked off intentionally,” Clark explained. “You get a big lead, and when the pitcher throws over, you dive back behind the base. I dove back and kind of rolled away so the first baseman had to come back and tag me.”
While that was going on, Benson scored with ease.
“I told the guys that play would win a game for us,” Baier said, “and it did and it was a pretty big win. None of us wanted to play in this third-place game, but it shows you the character of this team to come out and play like they did today. Years from now, I’m not going to remember the score of either game, but I’m going to remember these guys. That’s why I made sure to get everyone of those 10 seniors into the game. I’m just proud of all the guys on this team.”