Nathan Croner turned in a 10-strikeout gem and his Truman baseball teammates backed him up with some timely hits and slick defense after a shaky first inning Friday.
The Patriots went on to an 8-3 victory over Blue Springs South in the championship round of the Eastern Jackson County Tournament at Legacy Park.
Blue Springs South defeated Lee’s Summit 4-3 in 11 innings later Friday in another game in the round-robin format between the three pool winners. Truman and Lee's Summit play at 4 p.m. Saturday to decide the championship. Truman last won the tournament in 2011 and 2012.
"It's been a while, and it's nice to get back to the championship game," said Truman coach John Eglich, whose Patriots lost 4-3 to Lee's Summit North Thursday but won their pool on a tiebreaker with a 2-1 record. "We played the type of baseball today that we played back when we won those back-to-back tournaments – great pitching from Croner and timely hitting, especially in that (five-run) fifth inning."
Croner was the victim of a first-inning outfield error that led to two unearned runs for South, but it didn't faze the 6-foot-6 left-hander, who was bringing the heat all afternoon.
"It was just 2-0 and I have so much faith in my teammates I knew they'd come back and score some runs," said Croner, who struck out a season-high 10 while allowing just three hits and walking three. "The last time we played South it didn't turn out very well (a 17-0 loss in the West Central Missouri Classic in Sedalia), so beating a quality team like they have makes this win even more special."
Truman catcher Bryson Howell said every pitch in Croner's repertoire was working against the Jaguars.
"First, they couldn't catch up to his fastball," said Howell, who had an RBI single in the five-run fifth. "And his change was great. The last kid who struck out had so much trouble with his change, we threw it on the last two pitches.
"When Nathan is throwing like he did today, he's tough to beat."
South coach Ben Baier agreed, tipping his hat to the lanky lefty.
"The kid on the bump was something else," Baier said after South fell to 10-9. "It was his day. He was throwing well. We're at a point where all of us – the players, me and the coaches – have to take a look in the mirror and see what we're doing. We have to keep working and get on roll here late in the season."
The Patriots scored solo runs in the second and fourth innings and put the game away with a big five-run fifth inning as Trent DuRall and Brayden Jensen opened the inning with singles. Van Oswald was hit by a pitch and Nick Wheeler drove home the tying run on a walk.
Kyle Pleacher, who had three hits, hit an RBI single and Mason Steele drove home a run on an infield fielder's choice, which was thrown away at first, allowing another run to score.
Howell's RBI single drove home the fifth run.
The Patriots finished with 11 hits and a ton of confidence heading into Saturday's deciding game.
"We're excited about Saturday," Croner said. "We're playing well right now. We just have to keep playing like we've played in the tournament."
Truman's eighth run came on an RBI single by Myles Odom.
BLUE SPRINGS SOUTH 4, LEE’S SUMMIT 3: The Jaguars bounced back in the second game, as Brigham Mooney pitched the final three innings of scoreless relief to get the victory.
Matt Cook also pitched two scoreless innings in relief of starter Tate Holmes before Mooney took over.
The Jaguars scored the winning run on a throwing error at second base.
"I'm proud of the way we battled back in the seventh to tie the game at 3-all," Baier said. "We made plays and pitches when we needed to. We will get back at it next week with a couple of tough conference games."