The journey through the 26th annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational field was much more successful for the never-say-die Blue Springs Post 499 Fike baseball team than its final destination.
Manager Jim Moran’s squad lost its first appearance in the Wood Bat championship game 6-2 Sunday afternoon to Lincoln (Neb.) Post 3 Union Bank on Jim Moran Field at the Hidden Valley Park Baseball Complex.
Fike, which won the tournament in 2010 by a tiebreaker (because the final day was rained out), springboarded into the championship game with a stunning nine-inning, 8-7 semifinal victory over Jefferson City Auxiliary earlier Sunday.
After taking a 4-0 lead in the semifinal game, Fike surrendered seven runs in the fifth to suddenly trail 7-4.
But a solo run in the sixth and two tying runs in the seventh paved the way for a dramatic game-winning hit by Garrett Phillips in the bottom of the ninth inning. Fike’s Nic Mertes and Cale Benson led off the ninth with singles, sending the slumping Phillips to the plate.
“Coach Dave (Benson) told me I had one swing before I was going to be asked to bunt the runners over,” Phillips said, “so I knew I better make the most out of my swing.”
He crushed the ball over the head of Jeff City right fielder Will Robinson to trigger a joyous celebration at home plate.
“I’d been in a bad slump,” Phillips said. “I don’t know when I got my last hit, but we got some big hits to get the game in extra innings and that gave me a lot of confidence. And the way Blake Roberts pitched in relief, we all wanted to see him get the win.”
Roberts, a side-arming righty who nearly swipes the dirt on the mound with his delivery, entered the game in relief following the Jeff City seven-run uprising. He pitched four innings of shutout ball, allowing just four hits and getting two strikeouts.
“I came to watch this tournament when I was a kid, and I always dreamed of playing in it,” Roberts said. “When we won, I got chills. I mean, I really got chills all down my back. It was the greatest feeling to be a part of a big win like this. This team is special.”
To get to extra innings, Fike needed another big hit – and this time, Derek Case delivered.
Trailing 7-5 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Case knocked a two-run single. It drove home Mertes and Benson, who had singled earlier in the inning.
“I don’t think I’d had a hit since Wednesday, so I’m glad it came when it did,” Case said, grinning from ear to ear. “We wanted to win this game so bad so we could get in the championship game for Jim (Moran).
“He works so hard with this tournament, and he deserves it.”
And the veteran manager, who co-founded the Wood Bat Invitational with the late Ron Johnson, returned the favor.
“These guys were out at 7:30 Sunday putting the down the tarp (because of rain), then they took it off at 9:30 and they played at 11,” Moran said. “They worked the fields all week and played some of their best ball of the season.
“To have a team reach the championship game for the first time is very, very, very special to me and the team. I wish we could have done better in the championship game, but to be honest, I think the guys just ran out of gas against a great Union Bank team.”
Zach Pettit went the distance for Lincoln Union Bank, allowing 11 hits and two seventh-inning runs. Nolan Hackle, who saved Union Bank’s 7-5 semifinal win over Quincy (Ill.) Post 37, had three hits and two RBIs in the title game and was named the Tournament MVP.
Nate Pecota and Zack Ehlen had three hits each for Fike in the championship game. Phillips was the losing pitcher.
In Saturday’s quarterfinals, Fike overcame a three-run first inning by St. Peters (Mo.) Post 313 and won 5-3. Fike scored once in the third, three times in the fourth and added an insurance run in the seventh.
Kaleb Salmon scattered six hits and three walks over innings to get the win on the mound, and Victor Schofield pitched two shutout innings in relief. Mertes (double) and Benson had two hits apiece, and Ehlen had a pair of RBIs.