Mark Lyford has guided two Grain Valley baseball teams to the Class 3 state semifinals and coached more Examiner All-Area players than he can recall.

But the veteran coach said he’s never had a play swing a hotter bat than David Richards did this past season.

Mark Lyford has guided two Grain Valley baseball teams to the Class 3 state semifinals and coached more Examiner All-Area players than he can recall.
But the veteran coach said he’s never had a play swing a hotter bat than David Richards did this past season.
“I got to thinking about all the great players we’ve had, and we’ve been fortunate to have quite a few,” Lyford said, “but I can’t recall any who had a season like David.
“When he came to the plate, everything just stopped. People at the concession stand just stood there and watched his at-bat, the stands got quiet, the dugouts for both teams paid more attention. It was pretty special.
“Every time he stepped to the plate, he had the chance to make a difference in the game – and he was that productive all season.”
Richards hit a school single-season record 11 home runs, hit .418 with an area-best 38 RBIs and an out-of-this-world slugging percentage of 1.016 percent.
The senior slugger in The Examiner’s Player of the Year, edging Fort Osage’s Bret Sutton and Truman’s Kyle Clifton.
“I know there were some pretty impressive players in the area, but I don’t know how a kid could mean more to a team than David meant to us,” Lyford added. “We rode his bat a long way.
“When you think about it, a lot of kids play from T-ball to high school and never hit 11 home runs and he hit 11 home runs this past season.”
And he hit them when it meant something, connecting for three bombs in the postseason as the Eagles, who won a district title but fell 5-3 to Kirksville in the Class 3 state sectional round.
“I’d trade any personal award for a final four appearance my senior year,” Richards said. “But now that the season is over, this is pretty special.”
In one week, he was the lone first-team Class 3 all-state player from the area and was named The Examiner’s Player of the Year.
“I needed some good news,” he said, chuckling. “I was supposed to play in the Missouri Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Game in St. Louis last Saturday, but I missed my flight from Minot, N.D., and couldn’t get another flight, so this is the best news I’ve had all week.”
Richards’ Oak Grove Post 379 American Legion team was playing in a tournament in Minot – which they won – and the Richards family left a 3:40 a.m. wakeup call in their hotel room so David could make the 5 a.m. flight.
“We never got the call,” he said, “and we later found out they left the call at another room. We woke up on our own about 4:20 a.m., but we saw the plane take off as we drove to that little airport in Minot.”
He must have felt the same dread opposing pitchers feel when they see one of their fastballs fly out of the park.
“I never try to hit home runs,” Richards said. “My dad, David (who is the new coach of Oak Grove Post 379, replacing his good friend, the late Ron Johnson), has been my coach since I was 4.
“And he knows a lot about hitting. I just try to hit the ball hard, but I never swing for the fences. If you do that, you get into some bad habits.”
Richards, who will play baseball at Kansas City Kansas Community College, went through one stretch his senior season when he couldn’t get it together at the plate.
“He had this little slump,” Lyford said, “but he’s so strong that even when he didn’t get around on the ball, he was able to muscle it into the outfield for a base hit.
“Then, when he worked his way out of the slump, he hit three homers in the playoffs.”
When asked about the slumps, Richards said, “It killed me. I love baseball. There’s nothing I love more than hitting. And when I went through that slump, I spent extra time in the cage, extra time working with my dad and the Eagles coaches and hitting off a tee.
“When I finally got my swing back, it felt good.”
Something else that felt good was being an all-state performer in two sports, as he was also recognized with first-team status as a wide receiver on the Grain Valley football team.
 “Being named all-state is an honor,” Richards said. “I really feel humbled, because I was all-state in football and to do it in baseball, too, is just unbelievable.”