Lee’s Summit North pitcher Gunnar Gronberg performed something of a high wire act during his six innings on the mound Monday, bobbing and weaving his way around base runners and deftly worked his way out of the occasional jam.
It seemed a little intense, especially after Blue Springs starter Ryan Miller silenced the Broncos’ bats. But Gronberg knew he was working with a good safety net: the Broncos’ defense.
Gronberg also had the security of an early lead, which boosted his confidence even more. It all added up to a 5-1 Suburban Gold Conference victory for the Broncos in their home finale.
“I have full faith in my defense that if I go out there and throw strikes, that I can get ground balls and they can get double plays behind me,” said Gronberg, a senior right-hander. “It all just works out in the end.”
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North turned just one double play against Blue Springs, but there were plenty of examples of the defense backing up Gronberg. A fielder’s choice putout at second base erased a leadoff single in the second inning. In the third, center fielder Hayden Bradford made a quick throw to second baseman Jason Gonzalez after a Blue Springs base hit to catch a runner off the bag. In the sixth, third baseman Justin Root speared a shot down the line with runners on first and second for the third out.
“Our defense has been pretty solid for us all year long,” North coach Mike Westacott said. “Even when pitchers get into a bit of a jam we can get ourselves out of it.”
Gronberg did have a five-run lead to work with after the Broncos scored two runs in the first and three more in the second. The Broncos took advantage of Miller’s early wildness, cashing in on two hits, two walks and two wild pitches in the first. A wild pitch brought home Root with the first run of the inning; the Broncos got creative for the second.
With courtesy runner Jeremy Root on first and Sean Johnson on third, Root wandered off the bag and drew a throw to first to start an apparent rundown play. While the Wildcats tried to get Root, Johnson broke for home and easily beat the throw to the plate.
“We work on those first- and third-base running situations all the time,” Westacott said. “A kid like Shaun is such a good base runner. When we get in that first and third situation with him over there, we can get creative and do a lot of stuff to try to push the run across.”
The Broncos’ second-inning runs came in a more conventional fashion. Bennett Scherer doubled and scored when Bradford hit into a fielder’s choice and Justin Root stroked a two-run double after a single by Oscar Medrano. Blue Springs got one run back in the third on three straight singles, the last one an RBI-shot by Caleb Marquez.
North though would get only one more hit until Miller exited after the fifth inning. He sent down 10 of the next 11 batters he faced and struck out four.
“I think he settled in and figured out the strike zone,” Westacott said. “He had some good stuff. Once he kind of got comfortable out there the game switched a little bit.”
But Gronberg was still comfortable, and the defense continued to back him up. It all added up to a victory that left North 16-11 overall and tied with Blue Springs atop the conference at 7-3 before the Broncos played Lee’s Summit Tuesday in their final regular season game. They will begin play in the Class 5 District 14 tournament in Grain Valley next week as the No. 1 seed.
“We’re in the driver’s seat,” Gronberg said. “We control our future, our destiny. Hopefully we can keep making things work.”