Will Heller got the job done on the mound and at the plate for his Blue Springs South baseball team.
The Jaguars used a six-run fifth inning – that included home runs by Heller, Allante Hall and Derek Mammen – to break open a tight pitchers’ duel between Heller and Grain Valley starter Garrett Morrow in the Jaguars’ 7-3 Class 5 District 14 semifinal win Tuesday at Blue Springs High School.
The Jaguars will return to Reynolds Field at 4 p.m. today to meet the host Wildcats in the district title game.
When asked about his arm and his bat, Heller just grinned.
“It was pretty exciting to pitch a complete-game win and get my first homer this season,” said Heller, who ended the Eagles’ 12-game winning streak by allowing just seven hits and three runs while striking out four.
“I hit my only homer here last year against Blue Springs, and it was about to the same spot of the one I hit today. I’m just happy I was able to help our team and give us the chance to play Blue Springs in the district championship.”
Heller and Morrow were locked up in a tight 2-1 game, with the Eagles leading through four innings.
“Then came that fifth inning,” said Morrow, a senior who has been a starting pitcher for Grain Valley the past four years. “I was just missing on my pitches, and it was their third time through the order. That ball Allante hit was a good pitch – and he got all of it.
“I have been wondering what it would feel like to walk off the mound for the last time, since I’ve been a part of this team the past four years, and it was tough. I’m playing college ball, but it’s tough knowing that this is it in an Eagles uniform. This team has been my family the past four years.”
As coach Brian Driskell took the ball from Morrow in the fifth inning, he received a standing ovation from a large Grain Valley fan section and a hug from each of his teammates.
“Garrett, Tate (Collum) and our seniors have meant so much to this team,” Driskell said after his team finished 20-10 in its final season in the Missouri River Valley Conference before moving to the Suburban Conference next year. “We have so many young guys, I was hoping for a 14- or 15-win season, and we win 20. And I think we earned the respect of a lot of our opponents.
“Garrett and Tate taught the young guys so much. The future looks good for our team, but we’re really going to miss our senior leaders.”
Sophomore first baseman Josh Kilpatrick, who hit his second homer of the district tournament and added a single and run scored, backed his coach.
“Garrett and Tate and our seniors taught us what it means to be a part of this baseball team,” Kilpatrick said. “They taught us leadership and how to win, and how to play the game the right way. We respect them and are really going to miss them.”
South leadoff hitter Dustin Brewer started the fifth inning with single. Jared Ravencamp then executed a perfect bunt that eluded Morrow on the mound. When the Grain Valley starter got to the ball, he rushed his throw, leaving runners on first and third base.
Hall followed that with a three-run blast that gave his team a 4-2 lead. Mammen and Heller followed with solo homers to set the stage for today’s much anticipated matchup of the crosstown rivals.
“That homer really felt good,” said Hall, a senior who has signed with Arkansas. “It was a good inning because Will was really throwing the ball well. They’re a great team, and we have a lot of respect for them, just like we have respect for Blue Springs.
“Tomorrow’s game should be a great one.”
South coach Ben Baier was pleased with his team’s overall approach to the game, and had plenty of praise for the Eagles.
“We played well today,” Baier said. “We got some big hits and Heller did a nice job out on the bump. He gave us a complete game and shut down a really good offensive team. We’ve seen Morrow since he was a freshman and he can pitch.
“Brian has done a great job with the Grain Valley program. They play the game the way it should be played.”
Collum opened the game with a triple and scored on Morrow’s RBI groundout and Caden Matlon added an RBI double in the fourth inning.