Keller, Jeffries lead Grain Valley baseball to first state final four in 18 years
As Cole Keller warmed up in the bullpen, preparing for his Class 5 state quarterfinal start against Smithville, he wasn't sure of what to expect once he took the mound for Grain Valley.
"I'm warming up and – I'm being honest with you – I didn't know what to expect in the game," said Keller, who threw four shutout innings of one-hit baseball to pave the way to 7-3 victory for the state-bound Eagles Saturday at Blue Springs South High School.
"Then I got on the mound in the first inning and I had everything going for me. I wasn't only throwing strikes, I had command inside and out, up and down. What I wanted to throw, I could throw."
The end result is an 11 a.m. Class 5 state semifinal meeting against Rockwood Summit (17-14) at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark, Mo.
"I challenged Cole earlier this week," said coach Brian Driskell, who led the 26-8 Eagles to their first final four in 18 years. "I told him we needed him to be in the zone to get this win and, man, was he ever in a zone."
So was cleanup hitter Kaden Jeffries, who drove in the Eagles’ first run in the top of the first inning with an RBI single. He added the biggest blow of the game, a two-run homer in the fifth inning, as the Eagles took a 7-0 lead.
"KJ is a guy who, the bigger the game, the bigger his bat," Keller said. "I knew he was going to have a monster game. When it's a big game, he always shows up. And we all showed up today."
No. 9 hitter Jacob Grasher collected a bunt single in the bottom of the second inning, stole a base, went to third on Riley Bown's single and scored on a wild pitch.
"Just like we wrote it up," quipped Driskell.
Bown, who also had a monster game, then hit a two-run double in the fourth to make it 4-0. Jeffries’ homer was the biggest hit in the three-run fifth as Alex Snyder stole home for the Eagles final run.
The Warriors, who had won 25 of their last 26 games, scored three runs with two outs in the fifth off reliever Joel Palecek, who Driskell said, "Pitched better than the score indicated. They had some seeing-eye hits and scored some runs, then Bown came in and shut them down."
Bown got the final out of the fifth and allowed three hits over the last two scoreless innings to save the win for Keller.
"We knew they had won a lot of games, but we beat them earlier in the year (9-8 in 10 innings), and we came into the game with a lot of confidence," Bown said. "Cole got us started. He was a beast – he was doing what Cole Keller does. And Kaden had the big RBI in the first inning, which was huge, because you play with more confidence with the lead. And his homer was big, too."
When Bown struck out Cannon Kobylski to end the game, he threw his glove in the air and waited for the crush of players to join him on the mound.
"It was a dogpile!" Bown said, laughing. "But I wasn't going down. Parker (Bosserman) and I said we weren't going down. It was a little tough when Cole jumped on. It's one of those moments you will always remember."
When Jeffries hit his homer, it gave the Eagles that 7-0 lead. It got more and more important as the game went on.
"I saw the ball come inside, and read it and knew it was a curve and I got the bat on it and hit it good," Jeffries said. "This is just an amazing day. I was born 17 years ago – the last time we went to state was 2003. It's been a long time, and now, we have a chance to become the first state champion in our school's history.
"What I really enjoyed about today's game was Cole throwing heat, then buckling their knees with his curve. He was doing whatever he wanted on the mound today."
And following the victory, Keller and his teammates made a beeline from Blue Springs South’s field to Grain Valley High School to cheer on the girls soccer team, which beat Platte County 2-0 in a Class 3 quarterfinal to also earn a state final four berth.
"It's a great day to be a Valley Eagle," Keller said. "To come here, and see them get the win to go to state. I guess we have a bus going to St. Louis (soccer) and Ozark. I couldn't be any more excited. I'm so happy for our girls – they have worked as hard as we have.”