At the time, the hit just seemed like an exclamation point was added to a game Blue Springs had an iron grip on.
Turned out it was much more than that.
Wildcats pinch hitting specialist Garrett McGowan came in with two outs and doubled down the left-field line off Blue Springs South’s Brigham Mooney to score designated hitter Caleb Marquez and pinch runner Chris Liggett to put his team up 8-4 in the top of seventh inning.
But in the final frame, the Jaguars threatened to tie the game after scoring two runs and loading the bases with two outs. Reliever Jake Lufft got Hayden Ludwig to strike out on a high fastball to end the threat and give the Wildcats an 8-6 win over the rival Jaguars Monday at Blue Springs South High School.
Blue Springs coach Tim McElligott acknowledged the McGowan hit was huge as he had the team give him praise following the big win.
“You didn’t think about it at the time, but it’s insurance,” McElligott said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him to come up in a spot like that and deliver. That saved us or we’d still be playing.”
McGowan said he has gotten used to the role of coming off the bench and pinch hitting late in games. So far, he’s fit the role well.
“You have to keep your arms and your legs loose so you don’t tense up,” McGowan said of his pinch-hitting role. “I sometimes take a jog down the line before my at-bat or stretch.
“I was just looking for something to foul off but luckily I got something I could square up.”
Putting in McGowan in that spot wasn’t the only coaching decision that worked out for McElligott. He made some lineup changes in the middle of the order, moving Jared Lafal from the No. 6 spot to No. 3, Marquez moved up from No. 5 to cleanup, Lufft was moved from No. 3 to No. 6 and Luke Miller went down one spot to the No. 5.
Marquez embraced the role of cleanup hitter as he went 2-for-2 with an RBI and two runs scored.
“I am approaching the plate looking for a first-pitch fastball,” Marquez said. “I wanted to jump on something early.”
The lineup changes appeared to pay dividends for the entire team actually. It got to Jaguars ace Tyler McKay early in the game. It was a much needed boost for the Wildcats after losing their last five and scoring just 10 runs in those contest and getting shut out in three of them.
“I walked to Coach (Bret) Schwartz and we decided we needed to shake things up,” McElligott said. “And that’s what we did. Jake had been struggling a little bit and we decided to mix some things up. We thought that we he might see more fastballs this way.”
The onslaught began in the top of the first when Dylan MacKay scored on a line-drive single to left from Marquez. McKay, who had trouble locating his pitches, tossed a wild pitch that allowed Lafal to score from third. Lufft then doubled to center past a diving Will Hughes and he later scored on a high and outside fastball that catcher Allante Hall couldn’t hold onto to make it 4-0.
“We know he was going to try and get on top with a first-pitch fastball,” Marquez said. “We were ready for it.”
The Wildcats (8-7, 1-2 Big Six) made it 6-0 after a wild pitch from McKay on a curveball allowed Lufft to score again. Later in the third, Hall tried to catch Zack Eisenreich stealing second, but his throw got away from second baseman Mark Walker, which allowed Payton Smith to score from third.
Blue Springs starter Ryan McMahan, who tossed 5 ⅓ innings, gave up four runs on six hits and struck out three to pick up the win, was cruising until the Jags loaded the bases in the fourth. Hall stroked a slicing double to center field, which was unable to be caught by a diving MacKay. It cleared the bases and cut Blue Springs’ lead in half, 6-3.
Hall snuck another fly ball past a diving right fielder for a double to narrow the gap to 6-4.
McGowan’s double in the seventh made it 8-4 before an infield error and a McKay RBI single made it a two-run game again with two outs. Fortunately for the Cats, Lufft was able to get out of the jam and get the win.
South coach Ben Baier said his team was outplayed in the loss and noted his team’s early-game struggles.
“We didn’t make plays early on,” Baier said, “and our at-bats were not real good. We kept fighting and from the fourth inning on, our at-bats got a lot stronger.”
Hall was one who had a strong bat, finishing 3-for-3 with four RBIs. McKay was 2-for-3 with a RBI and two runs scored for the Jaguars (8-7, 2-2).
MacKay was 2-for-4 with a run scored for Blue Springs.
“Our bats are starting to come alive and it couldn’t come at a better time,” Marquez said.