West Platte leaves this year’s Missouri state baseball tournament with the best record of any of the 20 teams in the five classes that are competing for state titles this week.
By BILL HESTER
Special to The Star
Unfortunately, the Blue Jays won’t be bringing home the elusive first place trophy. Hartville scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 4-3 victory Thursday in the Class 2 championship game at T.R. Hughes Stadium in O’Fallon.
The Blue Jays, who lost in the championship game in basketball last winter after entering the title game with an undefeated record, finished the season with a 22-2 record. No other teams at state have fewer than two losses.
“It’s rough,” said West Platte senior catch Jared Meyer who reached base all four times Thursday. “It’s my last high school game, and this whole state experience has been so special and memorable from the bus ride to staying at the hotel with the guys. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates. I just wish we could have gotten those final three outs, but hats off to Hartville. They just beat us in the end.”
West Platte struggled early on with two errors and a passed ball that helped Hartville score two runs in the first. West Platte got one of those runs back, also unearned, in the second.
After a one hour and 15 minute rain delay in the bottom of the second inning, Blue Jay freshman McKauley Stephenson settled into a groove with five scoreless innings.
West Platte left six runners on base in the first four innings. The fifth inning looked like it was going to be another wasted opportunity as the Blue Jays loaded the bases with no outs on a pair of walks and a hit batsman. Hartville recorded two forceouts at the plate but another freshman, Luke Horseman, came up with a huge hit. He was ahead in the count 3-1 when he stepped out of the box but was not granted timeout. A strike was called to set up the old-fashioned merry-go-round with all three runners on the move on a 3-2 pitch. Horseman drove Drew Ince’s pitch just fair down the third base line scoring two runs and giving West Platte a 3-2 lead.
That lead would hold up until the seventh. Stephenson gave up a leadoff hit to A.J. Buford. Logan Moose, who was the winning pitcher in the semifinals, was brought in. Ince lined his first pitch just out of the reach of second baseman Matt Heili for a double. The tying run scored on a groundout and the winning run scored on an infield hit by Kevin Prock with two outs.
“That is part of baseball,” Blue Jays manager Ryan Ramey said of the tough luck loss. “I know the guys were disappointed to let it slip away in the last inning. And losing like that in baseball and basketball was like rubbing salt in the wounds.
“But I want to focus on the positives. It was an awesome season, and it was such a pleasure to work with good character kids who did such a good job of representing the school.”