Grain Valley High School coach Brian Driskell walked off the Eagles baseball field Tuesday night with a laundry list of items he will soon address with his team.
But before he talks about the miscues his Missouri River Valley West squad needs to address, he lavished praise on sophomore pitcher and third baseman Dalton Egelston.
“Dalton is a sophomore in high school who plays like a college sophomore,” Driskell said, after Egelston drove home the winning run in an 8-7 victory over longtime rival Oak Grove, helping the Eagles improve to 11-3 overall and 5-0 in conference action.
“He’s just a gamer, you want the ball in his hands or the bat in his hands with the game on the line. He drives in the winning run, then, when they have the tying run on base with two outs in the seventh I’m thinking, ‘Hit it to Dalton, hit it to Dalton. They did, and he makes a nice play (at third base) for the last out of the game.”
Egelston started and allowed three earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. He had two hits, two RBIs, scored a run and fielded Ben Hipsher’s grounder at third to record the final out.
“Now, look at this list,” Driskell said, grinning, “think I have a few things to talk to the team about? We didn’t play very well. We got the early (6-0) lead and let them right back in the game. But you have to give our guys credit – we battled back after Oak Grove tied the game and found a way to win.”
Dalton Forge was the winning pitcher, despite giving up a game-tying single to Payton Whitaker in the top of the sixth inning.
“I thought Egelston and Forge both threw the ball well,” Driskell said. “We kicked it around a little bit, and the sun was killer today. We lost a couple in the sun, and there’s not a lot you can do about that.”
Both teams provided plenty of offense as every member of the Eagles starting lineup collected at least one hit, with Kyle Clark hitting two doubles and scoring two runs. All but one member of the Panthers had at least one hit.
Oak Grove scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning to tie the game at 6.
Grain Valley’s Clark then led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a double and scored on Egelston’s RBI single. The Eagles loaded the bases with no outs, but reliever William Cain struck out the side, allowing just the one run.
“This was a big win against a big rival,” Egelston said. “We didn’t play our best, but we found a way to win – and that’s what good teams do. We have several goals as a team, and the first is to win conference.
“We’re undefeated and were able to stay undefeated with this comeback win. We were a little down in the dugout when they came back to tie it, but we stayed confident and found a way to win the bottom of the sixth.”
While his 7-7, 2-2 team made a strong comeback, coach Evan Jones was unhappy with the Panthers’ sloppy play.
“We’ve won a few games where we’ve given another team three or four runs, but we found out today you can’t give a good team like Grain Valley three or four runs and expect to win,” Jones said. “It was refreshing to see us come back after being down 6-0. But we kicked it around and gave them some runs.
“But you have to give Grain Valley credit. They made the most of our mistakes, and it cost us a chance to win a game.”
While the defense was suspect for each team, Eagles center fielder Mitch Chapman saved at least three runs with over-the-shoulder catches in the top of the fourth and sixth innings.
“Mitch isn’t the fastest center fielder you’re ever going to see,” Driskell said, “but when he gets to the ball he catches it. Those catches were really big. We might not be talking about a win today if he doesn’t make them.”
Devon Hudson and Tanner Pavlica each had three hits for the Panthers. Tate Collum, Egelston and Garrett Morrow had two hits each for the Eagles.