Blue Springs South a victim of weather, Jefferson City comeback in district final

Michael Smith
The Examiner

SEDALIA, Mo. — Blue Springs South baseball coach Ben Baier said he’s someone who doesn’t criticize umpiring.

Thursday’s Class 6 District 5 championship game against Jefferson City was a rare exception.

The Jaguars went into the bottom of the seventh inning with a 5-0 lead. There was a light drizzle that started in sixth. In the last half inning of the game, the rain started coming down hard. The home-plate umpire elected not to call a delay and continue the game.

That meant that South closer Grant Hollister had to pitch in a downpour. That made it hard for him and Ethan Watson, who ended up replacing him, to grip the baseball properly. That led to wild pitches and a lot of balls. The lack of being able to control their pitches allowed Jefferson City to rally for six runs and capture a shocking 6-5 victory at Liberty Park Stadium in Sedalia.

The loss ended South’s streak of five consecutive district championships.

“The ball was very slick,” Baier said. “Tip your cap to them. They were taking pitches until they got a strike. It’s hard to throw a baseball in a downpour. I rarely will question umpires. Taking a 15-minute break while it was coming down wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. It is what it is.

“I have some serious reservations about what happened. I am really upset. I didn’t understand the logic (of not calling a rain delay during heavy rain). Our guys couldn’t throw strikes because they couldn’t hold the baseball. I feel like something was taken from those kids.”

It was a heartbreaking way to lose for South, who played well up to that point. Jeremy Parks led off the inning with a fly ball to right field and Trenton Trieb was unable to catch the ball, which allowed the Jeff City shortstop to take second.

It all went downhill from there for the Jaguars (15-17).

Hollister walked Eli Moreland and gave up a single to Connor Earleywine to load the bases. The South right-hander hit Taylor Hopkins in the helmet with a pitch and walked Joseph Hoerchler to make it 5-2.

That’s when Watson replaced him, and the senior didn’t have any better luck controlling his pitches given the conditions. Jacob Roettgen hit a two-run single to right field to cut South’s advantage to 5-4. After Watson walked Nick Williams, pinch runner Hayden Wells scored on a passed ball from third to tie it.

Watson managed to get a strikeout and popout to almost escape a nearly impossible situation. But a fastball in the dirt got away from South catcher Ty Campbell and allowed the winning run to score from third.

The comeback marred an excellent pitching performance from South starter Trenton Roehler, who tossed six scoreless innings and allowed just four hits, one walk and struck out four. He kept the Jays hitters off balance and buckled down the few times he allowed runners into scoring position.

“I thought I did all right,” Roehler said. “My defense stepped up behind me. They were amazing. It was all my defense. It wasn’t me.”

Added Baier: “He’s a bulldog. He pitched his (rear end) off. He battled. He has a bright future with us.”

The Jaguars took advantage of Jays’ miscues early. A dropped fly ball by the Jays outfield allowed Trieb to reach second in the second inning. An errant throw from Parks at third base on a ground ball off the bat of Gavin Williams allowed Trieb to score. Two batters later, senior Quinton Robertson drove in a run on a sharp single to center field. Hollister hit an identical ball to center to bring in two more runs, as South surged ahead 4-0.

The Jaguars’ other run came in the fourth when a double steal allowed Hollister to score to make it 5-0. It looked like South was headed for victory, until the weather and the Jays had other ideas.

Baier told his team they had nothing to be down about after the game and told them he was proud of them. He was adamant about his players “holding their heads up high.”

“They competed their (rear ends) off,” Baier said of his players. “They went up against a good team. And for six and a half innings outplayed that team and made good pitches and played good defense.

“I am proud of them. We lost a lot of our guys to a COVID situation in the middle of April. We had to fight through that, and our guys kept showing up and fighting. They were ready to work. I told every coach that saw us, ‘You might beat us today, but I like these guys a ton.’ They represented our school the right way.”