By Mike Genet
SEDALIA – They might be graying or thinning their manager’s hair even more, but Jim Moran doesn’t appear to mind after his Blue Springs Post 499 Fike players twice battled back from notable deficits Friday at Liberty Park Stadium.
Fike erased a 4-0 deficit in one inning against host Sedalia Post 642, then climbed out of a 10-5 hole in the seventh and eighth innings before Zack Ehlen’s two-out infield single with the bases loaded in the ninth plated Andrew Olsen with the winning run. The 11-10 walk-off victory kept Fike in the winners bracket of the American Legion Zone 2 Tournament.
Post 499 (33-9) plays the Lee’s Summit Outlaws (33-17) at 1 p.m. Saturday, with the winner advancing to Sunday’s championship round. The Outlaws run-ruled the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s in Friday’s opening game, 13-3 in 6 1/2 innings.
The A’s (40-11) stayed alive with a 13-1 win over the Lee’s Summit Post 189 Pirates later Friday and play at 4 p.m. Saturday against the Sedalia, which eliminated Independence Post 21 8-6 in Friday’s nightcap.
Olsen clubbed a double to left-center to open the bottom of the ninth. After Braden Younkin struck out on three fouled bunt attempts, the Travelers had relief pitcher Austin Bullard intentionally walk Garrett Phillips to set up a possible double play. Derek Case then flied out, but Blake Roberts’ grounder to shortstop got booted, setting up Ehlen’s heroics.
After taking a close 0-2 pitch, Ehlen slapped a grounder toward the hole on the left side. When the shortstop couldn’t make a clean grab for a possible force out, a Fike celebration ensued.
“That’s why I have this,” Moran said as he ran his hand over his head, adding that his players never lost hope. “These guys haven’t gotten down on themselves this year.
“We live to play tomorrow.”
Ehlen said the team considered a squeeze bunt, a play Fike has pulled off numerous times this year.
“We were debating it, but (Bullard) likes to pitch outside,” Ehlen said. “I was way too anxious (the previous two pitches). The first base coach just told me, ‘short and simple (swing).’”
Fike starting pitcher Tanner Lucas retired the first nine batters before Sedalia (24-21), which beat Fike 18-1 in last week’s district tournament, batted around for four runs in the fourth.
Then, after Fike countered with five runs on Younkin’s RBI single and the help of three errors, the Travelers countered with another four in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, Cortlen Austin lined a sacrifice fly to center, and Cody Kozak followed with a three-run homer to left. Austin and Kozak each had four RBIs.
Kaleb Salmon relieved Lucas at that point and went the final 4 1/3 innings. He allowed RBI singles to Austin and A.J. Paul in the seventh, but Fike turned a clutch double play in the eighth. After Chance McMullin’s one-out walk and stolen base, Matt Miles grounded out to third. First baseman Cale Benson noticed McMullin straying too far off second and fired there to start a 3-4-6 tag out.
“If they get another hit, we’re down by two and that changes what we can do,” Moran said of that play. “Sedalia’s a great hitting team, and we knew that. Some days you’re the bug, some days you’re the windshield, and today he was the windshield. Kaleb hasn’t pitched much this year, but he kept us in the ballgame.”
Ehlen, Nic Mertes (double), Benson and Nate Pecota had consecutive one-out hits in the seventh to make it 10-7, and two batters later Younkin yanked a two-run double to left. With two out and one on in the eighth, Mertes got nipped by a pitch from Sedalia starter Taylor Schubert, and Benson promptly greeted reliever Austin Weinburg with an RBI single up the middle to tie the game.
Ehlen, Benson and Olsen had three hits apiece in Fike’s 16-hit attack.
The A’s started strong in Friday’s first game before falling victim to the Outlaws’ onslaught.
The A’s capitalized on two errors and getting RBI singles from Jared Lafal and Kirk Finley for a 3-0 lead. But they managed just three more baserunners in the final six innings against Outlaws starter P.J. Seufert, who scattered seven hits with no walks.
His A’s counterpart, David Stober, struck out four of the first six batters before Outlaws strung together four hits, a walk and an error for three runs in the third.
In the fourth, Miles Kilgore’s single and Alec Shuler’s sac fly made it 5-3. With two outs, Quentin Bradford battled and drew a bases-loaded walk, and Herb Byers unloaded on Stober’s next offering, hitting a grand slam inside the left field pole for a 10-3 lead.
“We were just hot at the plate all of a sudden,” Byers said. “I just was just looking for the fastball since he was struggling. I just looking for a base hit, and I got lucky and it went out.”
The Outlaws got an RBI single from Seth Soto and sac flies from Bradford and Byers in the fifth off A’s reliever Dillon Jackson.
“I can’t say enough about P.J,” Outlaws manager Mike Gailey said. “The kid’s got the biggest heart. He didn’t have any strikeouts, but he hit his pitches and didn’t give up, and we made some nice plays.
“We were hitting from up and down the lineup. Everyone adjusted; the first two innings we didn’t swing at good pitches.”
Rod’s Sports manager Mike Rooney said his team didn’t stay mentally strong, especially after seeing Stober (8-0, 1.40 earned run average coming in) struggle on the mound.
“We lost our patience at the plate after the first inning, David kind of struggled and everything kind of snowballed,” Rooney said. “It’s the type of game where, if you make a mistake, you make sure it’s the last mistake. You can’t give them extra outs.
“Unfortunately, there’s days where your pitcher doesn’t have it, and it probably didn’t help the psyche of the team, because they’re used to him winning. The Outlaws are a good team, and hopefully we’ll have another shot at them.”
The A’s bounced back in the afternoon, scoring four runs in the ninth to finish off the Pirates. Jonathan Fink scattered eight hits without a walk over seven innings for the win, and Ramon Rivera (2 doubles, 2 RBIs) and Corbin Hare (3 RBIs) each slapped four hits for the A’s. Stober added a triple and two singles for two RBIs, and Jeremy Lufft had two hits and scored four runs.
Travis Simonin batted 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles for the Pirates, who bowed out at 20-26.
Independence Post 21 finished at 13-31.