The Strike Out Cancer Game is always emotional for players and fans alike. The emotions were raw and tugging at Lee’s Summit West Alex Stanghor as he took to the mound Monday night against Raymore-Peculiar.
Stanghor was a friend of Sam Smith, the former West swimmer and student whose five-year battle against the disease rallied a whole school and many more behind him before his death on Easter Sunday at the age of 19. The Titans dedicated the game to Smith, and his friend’s memory was on his mind.
“We all walked down to right field and decided this should be for him,” Stanghor said. “It was a bit emotional.”
Stanghor had a wobbly first inning, and then he went from emotional to unhittable. He struck out 14, walked one and gave up only one hit over six innings to lead the Titans to a 6-1 victory in front of an overflow crowd gathered for the teams’ annual fund-raiser to fight cancer at Ray-Pec.
Stanghor, a senior left-hander, started the game by giving up a walk to Derek Beauchamp. David Thompson bunted Beauchamp over to second, and Andrew Houston belted a line drive to the center field fence that drove in Beauchamp.
“I came out a little shaky,” Stanghor said. “That was due to the whole scale of everything. It’s a bit different than the normal high-school game.”
Stanghor settled down quickly, and his emotions, the crowd and the Spectrum Sports TV cameras couldn’t keep him from bearing down on the Panthers. He struck out the last two batters he faced in the first, starting a string of five straight Ks before allowing a leadoff walk in the third inning.
Ray-Pec wouldn’t get another base runner until the seventh inning.
“I just started gaining control after that,” Stanghor said. “I just went out there, took it one pitch at a time.”
West coach Jay Meyer didn’t think Stanghor had his best stuff, but he said that made him even more impressive. He went to the stretch to slow himself down, and he utilized his curveball more as his fastball proved not to be as effective.
“The one thing I liked about Stang is that he adjusted,” Meyer said. “He didn’t have a good running fastball, but he really established his secondary pitch and kept the hitters guessing. He’s growing and maturing as a pitcher and that’s good to see.”
West scored all of its runs and gave Stanghor a nice cushion during a five-hit second inning. Back-to-back singles from Cole Taylor and Jake Grauberger started the scoring, and Brennan Glaze drove in two with a bases-load double on the first pitch he saw from Panthers starter Jake Beauchamp. Ben Kobel hit an RBI-single, and Ben McClain doubled home a run as the Titans brought 11 to the plate in the inning.
“That second inning was really a big help to me,” Stanghor said. “That kind of motivated me to just go out there and shut them down. We got our lead and that’s all we needed.”
It was all the Titans would get. Jake Beauchamp held the Titans to a walk after the second, and they wouldn’t get another hit until after he exited in the sixth.
“We had one bad inning,” Ray-Pec coach Gary Renshaw said. “You take away that second inning and he had a heck of a game.”
This was the sixth Strike Out Cancer Game, which alternates every year between the two schools. The event includes freshman and junior varsity games and a silent auction and a raffle to help raise funds. A ceremony before the varsity game included a balloon release to honor the memory of those lost to cancer and recognition to those who have survived or are fighting the disease. KMBC sportscaster Karen Kornacki served as the guest speaker.
This year’s game is expected to raise more than $10,000 said Ann Carvan, who serves as the chairman for the Strike Out Cancer Game. Proceeds from this year’s game are going to the H8 Cancer Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds for cancer research and promoting the awareness of different treatment options.
“Every year we’re like, there’s no way this can get bigger,” said Renshaw, whose wife is a cancer survivor, as is Meyers’. “But every year it just keeps getting bigger.”