The Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s juggernaut rolled into the 29th annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational semifinals.
After claiming a 14-0 laugher against Thomas Boothe of O’Fallon, Mo., and narrowly escaping with a 3-2 victory against the Windsor Post 82 Titans and baby-faced starter Brendan Rhodes, who recently celebrated his 16th birthday, the defending champion A’s take a 4-0 record and 45-7 run differential into Saturday’s quarterfinal action at Hidden Valley Park’s Jim Moran Field. Rod’s two victories Friday afternoon came at Blue Springs South High School, the site of each one of their tournament wins.
The A’s matched their run total of 14 with their hit total in the first game, as outfielder Ray Paniagua threw four shutout innings and stroked two doubles.
“Ray has pretty much done it all for us this tournament,” said A’s manager Mike Rooney, who sat outside the dugout in street clothes because he has felt ill the past couple of days. “Ray gave us four shutout innings in a game that got out of hand early and that allows us to save our pitchers for the big games this weekend.”
The A’s scored nine runs in the first inning of the first game to set the mercy-rule tone as they scored 10, 18, 14 and 3 runs in their four victories.
Jake Lufft powered the A’s offense with a double, single and four RBIs in the first game. Max Gibler added a double and single and two RBIs and Ty Simshauser finished with a double, single and three RBIs.
“It’s a crazy game,” said Lufft, who was hit by a pitch and scored the A’s first run in the second game. “We hit everything they threw at us the first game, then that kid comes in and doesn’t throw the ball hard at all, and we can’t hit anything.
“It’s really frustrating, but we’re going into the weekend with four wins, so I’m not complaining.”
Hayden House threw six innings of two-run ball against the Windsor Titans in the second game, but had to leave because of his pitch count (114). Aaron Bennefeld survived a heart-stopping seventh inning – pitching out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam by striking out Trevor Townlain.
A’s catcher Caleb Marquez then noticed the runner at third had a big lead and fired the ball to Lufft, who applied a quick tag to end the threat.
“Situations like that, you just have to keep your cool and block everything out except the batter,” said Bennefeld, who picked up the victory. “It was a tough situation, but I felt like we’d get out of it. Caleb made a great throw to third to get that kid and get us out of it.”
In the bottom of the seventh, the Titans sent in a new pitcher because Rhoads had thrown 118 pitches (the max is 120). Reliever Zach Berube hit Marquez, who promptly stole second base.
Gibler than crushed a ball through the legs of the Windsor first baseman and Marquez came home to score the game-winning run.
“Two totally different games today,” Gibler said. “Rooney keeps talking about putting the ball in play and I was able to do it. When I saw the ball go through the kid’s legs, I knew we’d won – and that was a great feeling.”
Titans manager Mike Daugherty was a gracious loser, praising the A’s for finding a way to pick up the win.
“We’ve played them a couple of times and this was by far the best we’ve played,” Daugherty said. “I was really proud of our kids and you can’t ask for anymore from a pitcher than we got from Brendan.”
Rhoads just grinned and shrugged when asked about his performance.
“I guess they can’t hit slow stuff,” he quipped. “That was one of my better games this season. I’m happy with how I pitched, even though we lost the game.”
The A’s finished with just six hits. C.J. July scored on a balk and Anthony Gunn had the lone RBI as he singled to score Lufft in the two-run first inning.
The A's meet the Omaha (Neb.) Northwest Huskies in the quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Hidden Valley Park's Jim Moran Field.