Cole Keller fans 14, drives in three to boost Grain Valley baseball to state semifinal win
OZARK, Mo. — Grain Valley High School baseball coach Brian Driskell has a way to keep his star player grounded.
Moments after senior pitcher Cole Keller struck out 14 Rockwood Summit Falcons – including a stretch of eight in a row – in 6 2/3 innings while adding an RBI triple and two-run single in a 7-2 Class 5 state semifinal victory at U.S. Baseball Park, Driskell said there is one thing about the 6-foot-5 right hander that surprises him.
"When he's on time," Driskell said jokingly after Keller overslept Saturday morning at the team hotel and had to hot-foot it to make the team bus. "After what he did today, I guess I'll forgive him (laughing), but if he is ever early or even on time it will be the biggest surprise of my life."
After getting his right arm iced after the big win, Driskell's comments were relayed to Keller, who had the perfect response.
"Only the greats are late," Keller said as his teammates danced and shouted and acted like a bunch of high school players are a win away from a state championship.
The Eagles will play the winner of the second semifinal game, between Fort Zumwalt and Willard, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for the Class 5 state title.
Keller was the dominant player from the opening inning, when he struck out the side, to the final frame, when he left to a standing ovation after throwing 107 pitches.
"When I'm on first with a guy from the opposing team," said Kaden Jeffries, who went from first to the mound to record the final out of the game, "guys ask me, 'Where's that kid going to school?' And I tell them, 'Washburn, to play football!' And they're like, ‘What? Football? That dude needs to be a pitcher.’"
After striking out the side Keller hit an RBI triple to score Parker Bosserman, who had been hit by a pitch. Jeffries then drove home Keller with an RBI single.
"It was like we were playing Smithville in different uniforms," Keller said, referring to their state quarterfinal opponent they beat 7-3 last Saturday when Keller threw four scoreless innings. "We got runs early in that game and the guys took care of me with the bats today. We'd struggled offensively, but our bats showed up at the right time."
Keller added a two-run single in the bottom of the second and the Eagles scored two more runs in the third on Avery Garmon's RBI single and Keagan Hart's sacrifice bunt to knock Summit starter Matt Haley out of the game.
"I got in a groove on the mound and had the big lead and was feeling it," said Keller, who struck out eight batters in a row starting with the last out of the third inning, going through the first out of the sixth.
"Everything was working for Cole today," Eagles catcher Cole Arndorfer said of Keller, who walked four. "His curve was nasty and he was really effective with his fastball. He could throw either one of those pitches anywhere he wanted to."
The Eagles’ final run came in the fifth on an RBI double by Riley Bown.
"I told the guys before the game, I haven't thrown a pitch, had a base hit or made an out this season – it's all them, and I appreciate them taking me along for the ride," Driskell said after the Eagles improved to 27-8.
The 17-15 Falcons scored two runs in the top of the seventh on two misplayed balls in the outfield and RBI hits by Ethan Lindeman and Will Eastlund.
Garmon and Keller finished with two hits, and Bosserman, Alex Snyder and Nick Hooper each added one for the Eagles.