O’FALLON, Mo. – A gritty, never-say-die performance by his Blue Springs South High School baseball team did not result in a Class 5 state semifinal win Thursday afternoon at CarShield Field.
But it allowed coach Ben Baier and his Jaguars to walk off the field with their heads held high following a 5-3 loss to Vianney, the No. 6-ranked team in the nation by USA Today and the top-ranked big class team in the state.
The first three Vianney players scored when University of Missouri-bound Luke Mann touched South starter Will Heller for an opposite-field three-run homer, but the Jaguars chipped away at the unbeaten Mann and were able to knot the score at 3-all with solo runs in the second, fifth and sixth innings.
But the 36-2 Griffins proved why they are among the top teams in the nation by scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth off Blue Springs South closer Dustin Brewer to advance to today's 1 p.m. championship game. South will meet DeSmet or Columbia Hickman at 11 a.m. today in the third-place game.
"I know a lot of people didn't give us much of a chance in this game," Baier said after a heartfelt post-game meeting with his 22-9 squad, "but we showed up and we gave ’em a game. They know they had to play some baseball to beat us, and I couldn't be any prouder of our guys."
When asked about the approach his team might take in the third-place game following the heartbreaking loss to the Griffins, Baier said, "We'll be ready to play and we'll be ready to win."
Heller, who turned in a gutsy performance after allowing the three-run homer to Mann, turned his ankle as he slid into second following a second-inning double. Pinch runner Caleb Israelite then scored the Jaguars' first run when he reached home on a throwing error by Griffins catcher Andrew Keck.
"My ankle hurt, but I was out there pitching on adrenaline and not feeling anything," Heller said as tears streamed down his face. "I was really disappointed with that first inning, but I was able to keep us in the game and I knew the guys would find a way to score some runs."
Pinch-hitter Colton Robertson delivered a huge pinch-hit single with runners on second and third in the top of the fifth, scoring Brady Strickert to make it 3-2. But the throw from left fielder Dominic Moro beat Israelite to the plate, keeping it a one-run deficit.
"I knew I had to do something to help my team score," Robertson said. "I wanted to hit the ball hard and put it in play. I did just what I was hoping to do, but their left fielder made a great throw home to get our runner."
However, the Jaguars were able to tie it 3-3 in the top of the sixth as Jared Ravencamp led off with a walk and eventually scored on a wild pitch. The Jaguars had the bases loaded with two outs but Mann struck out Cale Sackewitz to end the threat.
With Mann leading off the bottom of the sixth, Baier went to his reliable closer, Brewer.
But Brewer allowed two singles, a sacrifice bunt and Moro drove home a run with an infield groundout and Devin Ward followed with an RBI infield single.
"We had our chances, and they had their chances," Baier said, "and they just made more of their chances – especially offensively. They threw our guy out at the plate and played well in the field."
When asked about taking Heller out of the game, Baier said, "It was the right move at the time. He was hurting. He got his ankle taped and did an amazing job of not allowing them to score any more runs, but with Mann leading off the sixth, I just felt like it was time to put Dustin in the game."
The Griffins went to their relief ace, Ryan Insco, in the top of the seventh and he retired the first two batters on a pop-up and groundout.
Ravencamp then hit a smash off the glove of first baseman Michael DiPiazza, and it ricocheted to second baseman Ward, who flipped the ball to Insco, who was covering first. Ravencamp was out on the bang-bang play to end the game.
Brandt Lightner will be on the mound today for the Jaguars and he said he expects his team to rebound from the semifinal loss.
"It's another time to play with my brothers and I know we're going to go all out to win," Lightner said. "We're all disappointed right now, but we're going to be fired up and ready to win that third-place game Saturday morning."