After the celebratory dog pile on the infield had cleared, Staley baseball coach David Wilson collected his team in the outfield grass and asked them to kneel. They complied.
By SAM MCDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
Then he asked his starting pitcher, senior Austin White, to stand. Wilson pointed toward White, commending him as the undisputed player of the game.
Moments earlier, White had worked his way out of four jams to lift Staley to a 4-2 victory against Blue Springs South and send the Falcons to the Class 5 state semifinals for the first time in school history.
“You’re not the prettiest girl at the dance,” Wilson told White. “But you sure do know how to dance.”
White smiled. His teammates laughed.
On Thursday afternoon, it certainly seemed to fit.
After working into trouble in each of the first four innings, White escaped with zeroes each time, frustrating Blue Springs South into stranding eight runners before scoring a pair in the fifth.
By that time, White had left the mound and was in line for the win. He earned it after Brian Regan retired the final five hitters in order for a two-inning save.
“It’s no secret that I’m not the fastest pitcher out there,” White said. “I was just attacking hitters and throwing as many strikes as possible. That’s all I could do.”
The offense backed his outing with a three-run third that included a two-RBI single from Cody Nutt and a run-scoring base hit from Regan in the fifth. Staley, 20-7, will play at 7 p.m. May 31 at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon.
All four runs against South starter Austin Simms were unearned. The Jaguars, 14-8, committed four errors, leading to a four-run deficit.
They battled back with two runs in the fifth on Dominic DeFeo’s two-run double — both runs were charged to White, who departed with a 4-0 lead and two runners on base.
“This time of the year, they’re all going to be close games and it comes down to who can make the defensive plays in the key spots,” Wilson said. “If you play defense and throw strikes, that’s the best way to give us a chance.”
Jake Waters added two hits and a run for Staley, while Jacob Clark and Colton Pogue each had two hits for South.
Oak Grove 3, St. Pius 2
Had the double play been allowed to stay, Oak Grove’s state title hopes may have gone away.
Oak Grove, however is heading to its first Missouri state baseball tournament since 1994 after holding off St. Pius X 3-2 Thursday night in a Class 4 quarterfinal at Webb Park in Oak Grove. In a game that was close from beginning to end, the difference wound up being a reversed call on a double play in the third inning.
Pius had just taken a 2-0 lead in the second inning when Warriors pitcher Joe McCoy plunked two batters and gave up a single to Levi Harmon that loaded the bases. Oak Grove’s Cole Doherty followed with a grounder to Pius shortstop Michael DiMaggio, who made the throw to second baseman Neal Quinn to get Harmon. Quinn made the relay to first, Doherty was called out and Pius still had its lead.
Oak Grove coach Kirk Sears, however, was adamant that the Pius first baseman had been pulled off the bag. After the umpires had a brief huddle, they reversed the call and Oak Grove had its first run. Dakota Hearn then punched the first of his two RBI-singles and tied the game.
“From my angle, I honestly thought he was off the bag when he caught the ball,” Sears said. “The umpires always say they want to get it right, and the umpire behind the plate said, ‘Yes he was this far off the bag.’”
Oak Grove used some speed on the base paths to bring home the go-ahead run in the fifth. Harmon drew a one-out walk, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored when Hearn beat out a throw from the shortstop for an infield single. The Panthers stole three bases in the inning.
“One of the things I’ve always talked about with my kids is that in close games you’ve got to be able to manufacture things because if you want to go deep in the playoffs, you’re going to run into good pitching,” Sears said. “And good pitching will normally beat good hitting.”
Oak Grove, which fell in the quarterfinals last season, will continue its run next week in the Class 4 state tournament in O’Fallon. The Panthers will face either Boonville or St. Mary’s of St, Louis in the semifinals.
Caleb Murphy had two hits, including an RBI-double, for Pius, which ended its season 8-9.
Correspoindent Dave McQueen contributed to this report.