There was something in the air Friday afternoon at Lee’s Summit’s Legacy Park, and it had nothing to do with the beautiful spring afternoon that set the stage for one of this season’s most highly anticipated Suburban Big Seven baseball games.
“You could feel the electricity, the atmosphere of a big game, the minute you walked into this place,” Blue Springs coach Tim McElligott said after Lee’s Summit turned in a near perfect performance to edge his Wildcats 4-2.
Added Tigers coach Jim Mellody: “I wish I could have been a fan today and not had to deal with all the pressure and stress of a big game like this.
“They had Jake (Lufft) throwing – and I think he’s the best all-around player in the conference – and we needed a win after they beat us (10-0 with Peyton Smith improving to 6-1 with the complete-game shutout) earlier in the week.
“This game had a playoff feel. The players could feel it, the fans could feel it and I know the coaches were feeling it. We needed to play a great game – getting it done on the mound, in the field and at the plate to beat Tim’s team and we were able to do it.”
Tigers starter Joe Vandenbos allowed six hits and just one earned run, along with four strikeouts and just one walk.
The Tigers made the Wildcats pay for two base running blunders early in the game and shortstop Quinton Carlberg turned in two fielding gems – jumping high to rob Caleb Marquez of a base hit in the fifth inning and then going deep in the hole to take a base hit away from leadoff hitter Ray Paniagua in the top of the seventh.
“Their shortstop played a great game,” McElligott said. “He made the two great defensive plays and had a couple of big hits. They didn’t make any mistakes and we made a couple of base running mistakes early that might have cost us a run or two – and a run or two can make a difference in a game like this.”
A Wildcat runner was picked off in the first inning and a pinch runner – in for Marquez, who had doubled – was thrown out at third on a sharp ground ball to Carlberg at shortstop.
“Those are things we can work on, but with all the rainouts and all the game building up, you don’t have a day to practice,” McElligott said. “We’re going to be fine. I thought Jake threw one of his better games of the season.
“Their guy was great out on the mound. When he had to make a big pitch, he did. And his defense was pretty good the entire game.”
A Blue Springs throwing error led to the Tigers’ third run, but the Wildcats backed Lufft with some solid leather in the sixth inning as Luke Smith made a nice pickup of a ground ball at first and had to dive to the bag to beat Spencer Parker.
Third baseman Mitchell Smith then robbed Cameron Pudenz of extra bases with a diving grab of his line drive, and second baseman Nick Brandner ended the inning with a long run into foul territory to catch Grant Baird’s foul pop-up.
The Tigers’ Parker had an RBI single in the first and Michael Edgar added and RBI double in the second. Parker scored on the throwing error in the third and Edgar gave the Tigers some breathing room with an RBI single in the sixth.
The Wildcats (15-7, 4-3 Big Seven) scored in the third on Lufft’s RBI single and added an unearned run in the fifth when Logan MacKay reached on an error and scored on Brandner’s RBI single.
“We’re 1-1 against Tim’s kids and I have the feeling we’re going to see them again,” Mellody said after his team improved to 16-3 and 7-1. “And if we do, it’s going to have that same type of big game feel. They got us earlier in the week, we got them today and we’re just have to see what happens if we play them again.”