With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Darren Clay from the Lee’s Summit Post 189 Pirates appeared destined to at least send the American Legion Zone 2 All-Star Game into extra innings.
But as it had almost all game long, the East defense provided the necessary help for some clutch pitching.
With Dalton Woods from the Lee’s Summit Outlaws representing the tying run on second base after a hit by pitch and stolen base with one out, East pitcher Austin Bullard (Sedalia Post 642) induced an infield pop-up from the Pirates’ Dillon Howell. Clay’s line drive headed for left field, but Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s shortstop Dillon Jackson jumped and snared the ball for the final out to preserve a 2-1 win.
“I don’t know (how), honestly,” Jackson said of his game-saving play. “I just leaped up and got it. It’s one of those plays where it’s a 50-50 chance.”
Players from the A’s, the Post 642 Travelers and Blue Springs Post 499 Fike were joined from by players from Independence VFW Post 1000 for the East Division squad. The Post 1000 Bears are a West team, but Oak Grove not fielding a squad this season left three teams in the East and five in the West.
The West team consisted of players the Outlaws, Pirates, Independence Post 21 and St. Joseph Post 11.
Bullard, who started on the mound for the East, pitched two scoreless innings and then came back to close in the ninth, was named Most Valuable Player. Fike’s Alex Smith, Sedalia’s Taylor Schubert, Fike’s Tanner Lucas, the A’s Jeremy Lufft (two innings) and Sedalia’s Matt Miles pitched in relief before Bullard’s second stint.
Combined, they stranded 12 baserunners, leaving the bases loaded in the fourth, fifth and eighth innings. Lucas got a shallow fly ball and strikeout to escape in the fifth, and Miles recorded a strikeout after walking a pair with two outs in the eighth.
The East got their two runs in the fifth against the Outlaws’ P.J. Seufert. Fike’s Zack Ehlen got a leadoff single, stole second and came home when the A’s David Stober hit a ground ball that got booted. Stober then swiped third and scored when Ian Dotson of the Sedalia Travelers bounced a single through the right side.
The East left eight runners on base.
“Hitting’s a bit of a struggle in a game like this,” Jackson said. “You’re teammates with people you don’t know and going against pitchers you don’t normally go against. But it’s a lot of fun, and that’s what makes it worth playing.”
Jackson and his teammates helped their cause by turning three double plays. The last one in the seventh loomed especially large as the Pirates’ Travis Simonin followed by lacing an RBI triple to right for the West’s lone run.
A’s second baseman Nate Carlton also had a nifty play in the sixth after Clay’s leadoff double, as he took a ground ball that had skipped off the third baseman’s glove and dribbled toward second and fired to third in time to nab Clay.
“Everybody wanted to make plays for whoever was pitching,” Jackson said.
Post 21’s Tanner Stone started on the mound for the West, and Justin Madsen (Post 21), Nick Gutsman (Post 11), Miles Kilgore (Outlaws), Seufert, Aaron Moutray (Post 11), Sal Nuñez (Pirates), Caleb McDonald (Post 11), and Cody Gregory (Post 21) followed with an inning each.
Kilgore, easily the tallest player on either team, had two hits for the West. At Lee’s Summit North High School, most of the pitcher’s chances to hit came in mop-up situations, but he’s seen more time at the plate with the Outlaws.
“As the season’s gone on, they’ve given me some chances to hit, and I’m liking it,” he said. “At the (high school) East-West All-Star Game in St. Charles they let me hit.
“It’s really fun to come and play with guys from other teams. All-star games are always a neat experience.”