With the first game of the American Legion Junior State Tournament on the line, Blue Springs Post 499/Junior Fike field manager John Kirwin waved freshman Blake Roberts in from the bullpen.

With the first game of the American Legion Junior State Tournament on the line, Blue Springs Post 499/Fike field manager John Kirwin waved freshman Blake Roberts in from the bullpen.

Junior Fike was clinging to an 8-5 lead and West Plains had the bases loaded and two outs.

“Blake’s just a freshman, one of the youngest kids on the team, and he’s our closer – the pitcher we want in there with the game on the line,” Kirwin said. “We have confidence in him.”

Roberts needed just two pitches to coax the Merchants’ Matt Wersing to hit a slow roller to first base.

Roberts sprinted to the bag, but Caleb Humphreys’ throw was just past the reliever’s outstretched glove.

A run scored and it was suddenly 8-6.

Roberts then fielded a slow roller back to the mound and – thinking the bases were still loaded – threw the ball to home for what he thought was a force out.

“I was out of it mentally at that point,” Roberts said, “and I felt like I let the team down.”

Another run scored, Kirwin took Roberts out of the game and another freshman, Andrew Olsen, came in to get a strikeout and retire the side.

“The only good thing about tonight is that we won, and I didn’t cost us a game,” Roberts said.

Kirwin saw it much differently.

“Blake learned so much tonight, and I made sure to talk to him about it,” the Junior Fike manager said. “I want him to know that he is our (New York Yankees future Hall of Fame closer Mariano) Rivera.

“He has that one nasty pitch – it’s a two-seamer we call the cut Frisbee because he throws it in a Frisbee fashion. He’s our closer for the next three years with Fike and we hope he’s Blue Springs South’s closer too.

“He should have gotten out of the inning with no runs scored. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen. Tonight, he learned a lesson about baseball and we got away with a big win. I see that as a positive.”

And long after the game ended, Roberts agreed.

“I just felt so bad,” Roberts said. “When you come in, in relief, you want to do well because there are usually men on base. I felt like I let the team down, but Coach talked to me and I know what he was saying. I do feel better than I did when I walked back to the dugout (during the four-run inning) and I’m going to use this as a learning experience.

“I hope I get another chance. I want to contribute in this state tournament.”