SEDALIA, Mo. – The Blue Springs Rod's Sports Athletics had a lot going against them heading into their elimination game contest against the Lee's Summit Outlaws Sunday.
Not only did the team have to overcome two elimination games prior to the contest, it was just a little more than 30 minutes removed from a hard-fought 6-4 victory over rival Blue Springs Post 499 Fike at game's start. The Outlaws, who hadn't played since the day before, were fresh.
The A's, however, found a way to dig deep, and behind the effort of starting pitcher Jared Lafal, who scattered nine hits across 8 1/3 innings, allowing just one run, they pulled out a 2-1 victory Sunday to force Monday’s winner-take-all game (see above) in the American Legion Zone 2 Tournament in Sedalia.
“We just took it one game at a time,” Lafal said. “We just didn't want the season to end. We wanted this win more than anything.”
Earlier in the tournament, the Outlaws (34-18) defeated the A's 13-3, forcing Blue Springs to the losers bracket. Since then, the A's (42-11) have been fighting for their playoff lives.
“Every game nearly gives me a heart attack,” A's manager Mike Rooney joked. “We came all the way through the losers’ bracket to get to this point. They deserve it. They've worked their tails off.”
Sunday’s game against the Outlaws came down to the wire. David Stober relieved Lafal in the ninth inning, coming in with runners at first and second with one out. Things started off shaky for Stober when he plunked Brian Conrow on a 1-2 count to load the bases.
Lee's Summit then sent in pinch hitter Miles Kilgore with a chance to win the game. He connected on a 1-1 pitch and sent a scorching line drive which was snagged by shortstop Dillon Jackson, who flipped the ball to second to double off Kameron Gray to pull out the dramatic win.
That type of defense helped Blue Springs survive the nail-biter. It especially shined in the third inning, when Brandon Bennefeld made a diving catch in left-center field on what looked like a sure base hit by Alec Shuler. Brett Conrow and Dalton Woods followed with singles to put two on with one out. Outlaws pitcher Seth Soto then came up to bat and hit a chopper that bounced off the shoulder of Jackson and landed in the glove of second baseman Nate Carlton, who fired the ball to first to get the double play.
“Our defense was amazing,” Lafal said. “I couldn't have asked for a better one. It was spot on and backed me up like no other team could.”
“When we played them Friday, they had some similar things happen with their defense,” Rooney said. “Their second baseman was making great play after great play and has a couple of balls bounce their way. Sooner or later, those kinds of breaks are going to come back to you, and luckily they did today.”
The Outlaws' only run came in the fourth inning when Quentin Bradford and Herb Byers led off the inning with a pair of singles. Two batters later, Bradford scored on Brian Conrow's groundout to make it 1-0.
The A’s countered in the top of the fifth, scoring both of their runs. Luke Miller laid down a suicide squeeze to score Carlton from third before Bennefeld's bloop single scored Kirk Finley for the go-ahead run.
From there, the Outlaws had two other gold opportunities to score – in the sixth with a runner at second with two outs, and with the bases loaded in the ninth – but they were unable to push across another run.
“This is nothing to hang our heads over,” Outlaws manager Mike Gailey said. “We were in the game the whole way and had opportunities. We played a great game.”
BLUE SPRINGS A’S 6, BLUE SPRINGS POST 499 FIKE 4: In the losers’ bracket final against Post 499 Fike, the A's erased an early 3-0 deficit and topped its rivals 6-4 to end Fike's season at 33-11.
Fike built an early lead. Zack Ehlen walked and Nic Mertes reached on an error. Cale Benson singled to left to score Ehlen and Mertes came home on Nate Pecota's suicide squeeze, putting Post 499 up 2-0 in the first.
Another A’s error set up Fike’s third run in the second when Garrett Phillips reached on booted ball in the infield and later came around to score on Mertes’ RBI single.
The A's tied it 3-3 in the fourth when Carlton, who was 6-for-8 on the day, singled off the glove of Fike starting pitcher Tanner Lucas for the first run. Miller scored Ramon Rivera on a groundout for the second run, and Lafal crossed home on an error for the third.
Fike temporarily regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth as Benson hit an infield single, plating Ehlen for a 4-3 advantage, but Carlton had a response in the fifth as he put the A's ahead for good with a two-run single.
“They got some hits when they needed to,” Fike manager Jim Moran said of the A’s. “We hit some good shots, and there was one hit which could have helped score a run that burned the left fielder, but the wind knocked it down. You have to credit the A's, though. They are a good ballclub.”
Jeremy Lufft picked up the win, allowing four runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings and Stober got the save, pitching the final 4 1/3 innings, allowing just two runners and striking out two.
BLUE SPRINGS ROD’S SPORT A’S 7, SEDALIA POST 642 TRAVELERS 6: The A’s rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to advance to the losers’ bracket final by edging Sedalia Post 642 Saturday.
Devon Sesler worked all nine innings for the victory, scattering 14 hits, walking one and striking out six. He proved strong at the end with three strikeouts in the final two innings.
Bennefeld singled twice and doubled, Lufft singled and homered with two RBIs, Stober singled three times and scored two runs, including the game-winner on Carlton’s second single. Corbin Hare hit a two-run homer and scored two runs and Rivera singled twice and doubled with one RBI.
LEE’S SUMMIT OUTLAWS 14, BLUE SPRINGS POST 499 FIKE 3: The Outlaws pounded out 12 hits to rout Fike in seven innings in the winners’ bracket final earlier Saturday.
Byers went 2 for 4 with three RBIs to lead the Outlaws. Bradford, Soto, Woods and Shuler each added two RBIs. Kilgore went five innings for the win.
Pecota had two of Fike’s three hits and two RBIs.