Blue Springs senior pitcher Reggie Kanagawa said she relishes the white-knuckle, nerve-wracking scenarios.
That goes for both in the pitcher’s circle and in the batter’s box, if Friday is any indication.
Kanagawa’s one-out single to center plated Payton Minnis in the bottom of the ninth to give the Wildcats a 1-0 walkoff win over Truman in superbly played Class 4 District 14 semifinal at St. Teresa’s Academy.
The Wildcats (21-7) advance to play Lee’s Summit North, a 12-1 winner over St. Teresa's in the other semifinal, in Saturday’s 4 p.m. final at Legacy Park after they outlasted Truman (23-6) in a pitcher’s duel between Kanagawa and Truman sophomore Kara Amos.
The pitchers both spotted their fastballs and mixed speeds well, and they allowed just a combined nine baserunners and benefited from flawless defense played behind them Neither team had two runners in an inning until the ninth.
Kanagawa’s game-winner came on a 2-2 pitch after Minnis led off with her second hit of the game and Taylor Snead had bunted her to second. Minnis easily beat the throw home.
“The umpire had a big strike zone, so I just wanted to keep my hands high and relax,” said Kanagawa, who had nearly given her team the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Her two-out drive to center with Madi Lavelle on second landed a few feet short of the fence in Alexis Lopez’s glove.
“We took a lot of great at-bats,” Blue Springs coach James Brandner said. “The last three innings we hit a lot of balls hard. That’s a great pitcher (Amos); a good kid and a great competitor. But I thought we were starting to figure her out.”
Kanagawa had just wiggled out of the game’s biggest threat in the top of the ninth. With one out, Kennedy Rucker dropped a double to left that briefly squirted away from the fielder. Amos then lashed a single to right – too hard for Truman coach Dan Harper to risk sending Rucker around third. But he felt good with his 3-4 hitters coming up.
Instead, Kanagawa induced and fielded a check-swing tapper from Chloe Armstrong for the second out, then struck out Myel White.
“We threw off-speed,” Kanagawa said of facing Armstrong. “It worked her previous at-bats, so you keep going to it until they show otherwise. I love situations like that, high-pressure situations. It causes everybody to focus that much more.”
Harper acknowledged that sequence was a bit deflating, knowing Truman would be hard-pressed to get another scoring chance that good.
“We should’ve scored there,” he said. “We had our fastest girl on third base, and really, my three best hitters coming up. One of those fluky things, with the check swing. Many times that ends up a foul ball.”
Kanagawa was perfect through five innings and yielded three hits and a walk against 12 strikeouts.
“Reggie was on fire today,” Brandner said. “The umpire had a big zone, and both pitchers used it well.”
Amos allowed five hits and no walks and struck out eight.
“Changeup was working the best,” Amos said. “Me and Chloe talked, and they have a great hitting lineup, so we tried to keep them off-balance.”
“All her pitches were working, her and Chloe,” Harper said. “Chloe calls the pitches, and everything worked today. It’s just one of those things – eventually they figure everybody out. She got them the first three times through the order.”
Though Harper’s team didn’t advance any farther than last year, the Patriots still have made significant progress from single-digit wins two years ago.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “I said that winning this round would be the next step. But this was the next step, because we took them down to the wire.”