Pirates turn lights out on Eagles' stellar season

By Bill Althaus
bill.althaus@examiner.net
Grain Valley shortstop Emma Jane Ogle, top, holds onto the ball to tag out Platte County's Julianna Knudsen as they collide at second base on a throw from catcher Riley Downey in Thursday's Class 4 state quarterfinal. Grain Valley lost 3-1.

PLATTE CITY, Mo. – The golden sunset that soon turned the sky over the Platte County High School softball complex an inky black, served as a metaphor for one of the most successful seasons in the history of the Grain Valley softball program.

The sun set on the Eagles Thursday night as Platte County pitcher Emma Koeneke struck out nine of the first 12 batters she faced, allowed just one run and claimed a 3-1 Class 4 state quarterfinal victory.

As she and her Pirate teammates approached the Eagles bench area to get rakes and shovels to manicure the field, Eagles coach Garrett Ogle said, “Congratulations ladies. Now go win a state title!”

The comment caught them a bit off guard.

“How cool was that?” asked Koeneke, who finished with 10 strikeouts. “They are a great team. They play hard and they play with a lot of class, and now we can see they get their class from their coach.”

Grain Valley right fielder Mackenzie Keller makes a leaping grab in the first inning of Thursday's Class 4 state quarterfinal at Platte County. The Eagles lost 3-1.

The loss wraps up a 25-5 record in which the Eagles were conference and district champions. They also appeared in their first state quarterfinal game since 2012.

“I know our girls are disappointed we lost tonight, but I just want them to know how proud I am for all they accomplished this season,” said Ogle, who met with the team following the loss, then spent some special moments with the three seniors – Riley Downey, Malia Gutierrez and Haley Martin.

“Our seniors were the backbone of this team,” the coach added. “They provided leadership and showed what it means to be an Eagle.”

Downey enjoyed a sensational final game, as the catcher picked a runner off first base, threw out a baserunner at second – as second baseman Emma Jane Ogle flew over the runner to make a sweeping tag – and collected hits in her final at-bats.

Grain Valley shortstop Emma Jane Ogle, right, tags out Platte County's Julianna Knudsen at second base trying to stretch a hit into a double as teammate Cameryn Bown, left, celebrates in Thursday's Class 4 state quarterfinal in Platte City. The Eagles fell 3-1 and finished the season 25-5.

“Riley did it all today,” Garrett Ogle said. “We’re all disappointed we lost, but we did a lot of good things in this game. I’m just so proud of this team. These girls are like members of my family.”

Emma Jane Ogle is not an actual member of Garrett Ogle’s family.

“She’s lucky,” he joked, “who’d want to be a member of my family?”

Ogle, a freshman who has made a big impact on the Eagles, took the loss hard.

“The underclassmen on the team are coming back, but I hate to say goodbye to our seniors,” she said. “They are such great teammates and leaders. I know all of us underclassmen know that they defined our team this season.”

Hailey Hemme threw shutout ball for Grain Valley for four-plus innings. But a controversial call at third base and an infield error led to an unearned run before Avery Huffman took over on the mound and gave up an RBI single to Takayla Lawson, to make it 3-0.

Grain Valley starter Hailey Hemme prepares to throw a pitch in the Eagles' Class 4 state quarterfinal against Platte County Thursday. Hemme shut out the host Pirates for four innings but Platte County claimed a 3-1 win.

Platte County’s Juliana Knudsen opened the fourth with a single, but was thrown out at second base by right fielder Mackenzie Keller when she tried to stretch the hit into a double.

Abby Reynolds then walked and scored on Hailee Magee’s triple.

Avery Webster then hit a shot down the third base line that was fielded by BriLeigh Sims, who appeared to tag Magee as she tried to get back to the bag. Sims then overthrew Ella Clyman at first and Magee scored.

After a lengthy conversation with the third base and home plate umpires, Ogle returned to his dugout and brought in Huffman to pitch. But most of the damage had been done.

The Eagles fought to the last out as Huffman hit a triple to start the seventh inning and scored on Gutierrez’s infield grounder.

Ogle then walked and Downey singled, but Koeneke managed to end the game with strikeout No. 10.

“It’s a tough way for our season to end,” Downey said, “but we went down fighting. We made them work hard for that win. If you can’t win your final game, this is the type of final game I would want to play in. I am so proud of our team.”