When Blue Springs pitcher Ryan McMahan is on the mound, his teammates can often be heard shouting, “Let’s go, Rhino!”
Now, some teammates don’t know how or why McMahan got the nickname. Third baseman Caleb Marquez came up with his own theory.
“It’s just a name that has stuck around. Oh, and he has a big nose,” Marquez joked.
In any case, McMahan didn’t exactly charge through the Lee’s Summit North lineup Wednesday, but he battled like a rhino as he wiggled out of jam after jam, holding the Broncos to an 0-for-5 clip with runners in scoring position and pitched six scoreless innings to lead his team to a 5-3 Suburban Big Six victory at Reynolds Field.
With the win, the Wildcats (14-9, 4-2 Big Six) moved within a half game of North (11-10, 5-2) in the conference standings.
Blue Springs wouldn’t have gotten there without McMahan, who Broncos coach Mike Westacott called “effectively wild.” That is indeed what the junior right-hander was as he gave up five walks and three hits and struck out three.
“He did a great job keeping us off balance all game,” Westacott said. “He threw enough pitches out of the zone to keep us off balance and we just couldn’t execute.”
He was immediately in trouble in the top of the first. He walked Hayden Bradford to start the inning before Aaron Meers lined into a double play to Jared Lafal at first. The Broncos still loaded the bases following a pair of walks and an infield hit from Mason Stites, but McMahan induced a weak grounder from Gunnar Gronberg to quash the threat.
An hour lightning delay didn’t deter the Blue Springs ace from keeping North off the scoreboard. He issued two one-out walks in the third before painting the outside corner with a curveball to strike out Stites and getting another weak grounder from Chase Swisher to halt another opportunity for the Broncos.
“With runners in scoring position, I was just trying to get them to hit the ball on the ground and let my defense turn a double play or get out of it,” McMahan said. “I really let that defense work.”
In the fourth, McMahan gave up back-to-back, one-out singles to Jason Gonzalez and Justin Root before getting Tanner Vance to line out to first and Bradford to ground out to third.
Wildcats coach Tim McElligott, who calls McMahan a “finesse pitcher,” said his ace was able to hold North scoreless despite not having his best stuff.
“Ryan will probably tell you he didn’t have his best stuff but he battles,” McElligott said. “He kept the guys behind him involved in the game. The thing that makes Ryan good is even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he can still get outs and get out of innings.”
Hard-throwing North ace Nate Webb, a University of Central Missouri recruit, seemed to be slightly affected by the hour layoff. Before the game was delayed, he gave up a walk to Eisenreich and allowed a single to Dylan MacKay. When he came back, he gave up an RBI single to Lafal. The Wildcats third baseman ran for second on the throw to the infield, a throwing error allowed Lafal to advance to second and MacKay to score to make it 2-0 after one frame.
“You never want to make excuses but a situation like that is tough,” Westacott said. “To have that long break in an inning hurts. And our defense didn’t make the plays in that first inning they were supposed to make and that cost us.”
Webb cruised through the next three innings as he retired the next nine batters he faced, five via strikeout. He then ran into trouble in the fifth, an inning he struggled to locate his 90-plus mph fastball.
The Broncos right-hander walked Eisenreich to load the bases and MacKay laid down a picture-perfect squeeze bunt down the third-base line to score one run.
“I tried to hit it on the first pitch but I missed it, then coach gave me the squeeze,” MacKay said. “Nate is a pretty good pitcher and I was looking for something down, but he actually threw me a curveball. So I took advantage of that.”
One batter later, Marquez, who was robbed of a home run by an inward blowing wind the fourth, drilled a two-run single to center field to make it 5-0.
“Any other day that hit is over the trees,” McElligott said of Marquez’s fourth-inning blast. “But that’s baseball. He comes back and fists one into center and that’s big.”
Added Marquez: “I felt pretty good going against (Webb). It was a big adjustment facing him from others we faced but (the at-bat) turned out well.”
That hit definitely turned out to be big.
Blue Springs went into the final inning in a comfortable position, but North made it dramatic. The Broncos scored three runs off reliever Peyton Smith with a bases-loaded walk from Andrew Kleiboeker and a two-run single from Stites down the left-field line. However, Stites tried to take second on the play, but found that Kleiboeker still was standing on second. After Marquez received the throw from Eisenreich, he saw Stites was several feet away from first and threw the ball to Lafal, who chased down the runner for the second out.
Smith was taken out for Garrett McGowan, who picked up the save by getting Swisher to ground out to end it.
“To get a win against Webb, who’s the best pitcher in the city and maybe even in the state, says a lot about a win like this,” McElligott said. “Even when we aren’t swinging it well, we find a way to score.”