Lee’s Summit’s 45-year wait for a second Missouri state baseball championship will have to wait at least another year.
The Tigers played heavy-favorite Jefferson City to a scoreless tie through the first four innings, but a big fifth inning by the Jays helped propel them to a 9-2 victory in the Class 5 semifinals game Friday at CarShield Field.
“When we played them early in April (an 11-1 loss), I told our kids then that’s probably your state champion,” Lee’s Summit coach Jim Mellody said of Jefferson City. “It’s pretty clear. They’re heads and tails above everybody else. We hung in there with them. They were getting nervous over there, but that fifth inning got us.”
Lee’s Summit (23-10) will play Vianney (31-7) for third place at 11 a.m. Saturday.
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The Tigers, who won their only state title in 1972, are 2-0 all-time in third-place games with wins in 2003 and 2005.
“Sadly, this is my third final four as a coach, and it’s my third semifinal loss,” Mellody said. “We won both of the consolation games. Those games are won by the team that wants to be there even though nobody wants to be there.”
Jefferson City (30-2), which has been the No. 1 team in the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association rankings all season, won its 20th consecutive game Friday and will play Fort Zumwalt West (24-14) for the Class 5 title at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Jefferson City was the Class 5 runner-up last season, falling to Francis Howell, which is in the same conference (GAC South) as Fort Zumwalt West. Jefferson City won its only state title in 1989.
“All we’ve wanted to do since we were kids was win championships,” said Jefferson City senior catcher Gaven Strobel, who delivered the big blow on Friday in the decisive fifth inning with a game-changing grand slam. “Once we lost that game last year, we really worked hard to try and win this one.”
Friday’s game was a pitchers’ duel through the first four innings with Lee’s Summit right-hander Dalen Blair (11-4) allowing just three hits during that time and Jefferson City righty Grant Wood (11-0) retiring the first 10 batters he faced and permitting just one hit.
“I felt great. My defense definitely gave me some plays and they were getting themselves out,” Blair said. “But, that kid over there is a great pitcher.”
The Jays broke the stalemate by batting around in the fifth.
Two singles and an error loaded the bases for Wood, who drew a walk to bring in the game’s first run and chase Blair from the mound after just 63 pitches.
“It’s not so much that I thought he was tired. They were starting to get to him,” Mellody said of Blair. “He got out of trouble the inning before and he was in trouble that inning.”
Strobel then greeted reliever Joe Vandenbos by smacking a 2-2 offering over the wall in right-center for the 5-0 lead.
Lee’s Summit threatened in the home half of the fifth, loading the bases with two outs, but Wood got Grant Baird to ground out to second to end the threat.
“We had a shot right there,” Mellody said. “I think that’s more Wood than us. He’s the Gatorade Player of the Year for a reason.”
Jefferson City put the game further out of reach with four runs in the top of the seventh.
The Tigers did manage to break Wood’s shutout in their last at-bat. Michael Edgar’s ground-rule double plated Dalton Hill, who had also smacked a ground-rule double, with the first run. Dalton Sterbins scored the other run on a wild pitch.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, it wasn’t enough. But, they still have a chance to end the season with a win on Saturday.
“We need to get over this loss, even though I know it hurts,” Mellody said. “The seniors have one last ride together. Let’s go enjoy it and have fun and play the game.”