O’FALLON, Mo. – Ben Baier knew the consequences. The longtime Blue Springs South High School baseball coach also knew that there is a right way, and a wrong way, to win a game.
And he was not going to let senior Andrew Simms, the lone Jaguar to not appear in the Class 5 state final four at CarShield Field in O’Fallon, Mo., languish in the bullpen without the chance to help his team win Friday’s third-place game.
Starter Brandt Lightner was nails for four innings, allowing just two hits, while his teammates gave him a 2-0 lead against DeSmet.
“Coach Baier came over to me in the fifth and told me Andrew hadn’t pitched and that he was bringing him in in the fifth,” Lightner said, “and I was fine with that. He also told me to be ready to go back in the game if necessary.”
Simms, who had been solid all season, had a tough outing, allowing three runs while recording just two outs, so Baier made the long walk out to the mound and summoned Lightner from the dugout.
“Look, we all wanted to win this game,” Baier said, “but it was important to me to play every senior. I got them all in today except Colton (Robertson), and he is such a stud and a great team guy – and he got the big pinch hit yesterday.
“I don’t want to develop baseball players, I want to develop men, leaders in the community who will go on and become great husbands and fathers. And I could not live with myself if I didn’t get all the players in one of the two games this week at state.”
DeSmet took a 3-2 lead, but Lightner recorded the final out and the Jaguars scored two runs in the top of the seventh to claim a dramatic 4-3 win.
“It was so cool of Coach to play every senior in the final four,” Lightner said. “They pinch hit, pinch ran, came in in relief – he got every senior in a game, and that’s why we love him. He loves us and we love him.”
Allante Hall, who has signed to play baseball at the University of Arkansas, lavished praise on his coach after starting that seventh-inning rally with a leadoff double.
“This was the perfect end to a great season,” Hall said after the Jaguars finish 23-9. “We won in the seventh playing the type of ball Coach loves and we respect and love him. He wants us to be men. Not just baseball players, but good men. And it was so great to reward a coach who put every senior in our two games with a win like this.”
An emotional Baier met with players and parents after the game and posed for photos with the third-place trophy and many of his players.
“I love these guys,” Baier said. “We all wanted to play in the championship game, but there are a lot of teams in the state who would like to be here today holding this trophy. We didn’t quite get to the top of the mountain, but we enjoyed the ride.”
– Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC