There’s a reason many area high school coaches call Blue Springs junior Jake Lufft the most complete player in Eastern Jackson County.
In the biggest game of the season, the right-hander allowed just two earned runs in six innings and hit a two-run homer in the first inning and a grand slam in the third en route to a three-hit, three runs scored and six-RBI afternoon as the Wildcats downed Lee’s Summit North 13-4 in Class 5 District 14 semifinal action at Reynolds Field.
The win sets up a 4 p.m. rematch today against crosstown rival Blue Springs South, a 7-3 winner over Grain Valley.
“You talk to coaches throughout the area and they talk about Jake as a hitter, and Jake as a pitcher,” Blue Springs coach Tim McElligott said after the Wildcats downed the Suburban Big Seven rival Broncos for the fourth time this season, “and they talk about Jake as a complete overall player.
“And that’s what he is. Look at what he did today – pitches six innings, gets the win, hits two homers, puts us on the board with that first-inning homer – he pretty much did it all for us today.”
His battery mate, Caleb Marquez, wasn’t too bad, either.
Marquez followed Lufft’s first-inning blast over the 350-foot sign in center field with his own solo homer to the same location. He added a double, scored two runs and ended the game with a block of home plate, tagging out North’s Dylan Lankford, who was attempting to score from third base on a groundout to first.
“They’re pretty special players,” McElligott said, “and they’re best friends. When one does something, the other one wants to top it – they’re fun to watch. They were sure fun to watch today.”
One big reason for Lufft’s and Marquez’s big RBI games was leadoff hitter Ray Paniagua, who had three hits and scored three runs.
“My job is to get on base so Jake and Caleb and the other guys who hit after me can knock me in,” Paniagua said. “When I get on, it always seems like it’s Jake or Caleb driving me in. It’s pretty cool to score in front of them when one of them hit a homer.
“I’ve been on the same team with Caleb and Jake since we were all about 9 years old. They’re my friends, teammates and great players.”
Ironically, this was the first time all season Lufft and Marquez have hit back-to-back homers and it is Lufft’s first two-home run game.
“It was good to get those three runs in the first inning,” said Lufft, who allowed four hits with two strikeouts. “We’ve beaten them three times this season, and they say it’s hard to beat a good team three times.
“Well, we thought it would be tough to beat a good team four times, but we were able to do it today. The guys played great behind me and we were able to get some timely hits.”
Marquez nodded in agreement.
“This was a big win, a huge win,” said Marquez, who is also a standout tight end and linebacker on the Wildcats football team. “I played on a football team that went to the state championship game the past two years and lost, so I know how hard it is to win a state championship.
“That’s why these games mean so much to me. I think we have a team that has a good opportunity to win a state championship. We were able to get past North today and we have Peyton (Smith) throwing tomorrow.
“So we’re excited, real excited to see what happens. Jake put us in a great spot to get to the championship game, now, we just have to go out and play tomorrow like we did today.”