Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s manager Mike Rooney was happy to see Ray Paniagua back in his dugout.
And the veteran skipper was happy he had Ryan McMahan there too.
McMahan put on his fireman’s hat and put out a blaze and Paniagua returned from competing in a West Coast baseball showcase to deliver the key hit of the game as the A’s routed crosstown rival Blue Springs Post 499 Fike 17-7 in a winner’s bracket game in the American Legion Missouri Zone 2 Tournament Thursday evening at Hidden Valley Park.
The top-seeded A’s, 2-0 in the tournament and 38-8 overall, advance to the winner’s bracket finals against the winner of Thursday’s late game between the Lee’s Summit Outlaws and St. Joseph Post 11. A victory in tonight’s 8 p.m. game assures the A’s of a trip to the state tournament. The two top teams from Zone 2 advance to state.
The loss leaves Fike 1-1 in the double-elimination tournament and 21-22 overall. Fike faces the winner of Thursday’s late Independence Post 21-Warrensburg Post 131 game in an elimination game at 5 p.m. today.
McMahan came into the game with one out in the top of a five-run third inning for Fike and finished with 3 1/3 scoreless innings. He allowed just three hits and had six strikeouts.
Paniagua, who missed Wednesday’s error-plagued 14-6 victory over Springfield Hillcrest Merchants Post 69 because he was attending a baseball showcase at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, broke the game open with a bases-loaded triple in the fourth inning that gave the A’s an 8-5 lead that they soon padded to a seven-inning mercy rule victory.
“I can’t say enough about Ryan and the job he did for us,” said Rooney, who was pleased with his team’s performance – minus a two-error third inning that led to five Fike runs – after criticizing his team’s effort in Wednesday’s first-round win. “Bennie (starter Aaron Bennefeld) just didn’t have it today. He’s been such an important part of our success this season and we hated to see him get off to that rough start, but Ryan came in and got the job done – and our guys can swing the bats.”
When asked about the return of Paniagua, Rooney actually smiled.
“I love that kid,” Rooney said. “You look at the final score and don’t really think about one big hit, but with the score tied and – at the time – we weren’t playing very well, that bases-loaded triple was huge.
“They had a lot of walks late in the game that we capitalized on, but we needed that big hit and he delivered.”
McMahan and Paniagua downplayed their roles in the victory.
“A team effort,” McMahan said. “Bennie has done the job all year and I was happy to come in and get us out of that inning. And with our offense, you have so much confidence as a pitcher. When we were down (5-2) I knew we’d come back.”
So did Paniagua.
“We didn’t worry about being down early,” said Paniagua, who reached base five times, four on walks. “We didn’t like it, but we didn’t worry. Everyone contributed tonight, not just me. But I was happy when I got that hit. It felt good, especially after missing the first game.
“Mike knew I would be gone, and I wanted to make up for it when I came back.”
Five Fike pitchers walked 15 batters, and seven came around to score and two drove in runs.
“We found out tonight something we already knew,” Fike manager Doug Lohman said. “You can’t walk 15 batters and even think about beating a team like the A’s – or any team, for that matter.
“We had that 5-2 lead early in the game and just couldn’t maintain it with the walks and mental mistakes. We have to come back strong tomorrow against the winner of the Post 21-Warrensburg game.”
Leadoff hitter Chris Liggett, who had three RBIs, and cleanup hitter Jake Lufft (one RBI) each had three hits for the A’s. Anthony Gunn added two hits, two RBIs and three runs and Max Gibler doubled with three RBIs as each team collected 10 hits.
Ross Greco had three hits and an RBI to lead Fike. Crichton Hill tripled with two RBIs and Quinton Weld had a double and two RBIs.