The box score will show that Summit Christian Academy managed but three hits in the Missouri Class 3 state baseball final. While the hits weren’t plentiful, their chances of making it a ballgame were.
And that, for Summit Christian, was the most galling thing about its 4-1 loss to Mountain Grove on a muggy Thursday afternoon at CarShield Field. Even after falling into a 3-0 hole before coming up to bat, the Eagles still had numerous opportunities to catch Mountain Grove and make a run at winning the first state team championship in the school’s history.
"They got the lead early and they sat on it," Summit Christian coach John Gage said. "And nobody could do anything the rest of the game."
Mountain Grove made Summit Christian play catch-up early after taking advantage of an unusually shaky first inning from Eagles starting pitcher Will Finch. Finch, who had a 1.11 ERA and gave up only 10 walks all season, got rattled for two walks and three hits in the first. He started the game giving up a leadoff single and a four-pitch walk, which led to a two-run single from Cory Allen followed by an RBI-single from Austin Williams.
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"I think it was a combination of several things," Finch said of his first-inning struggles. "Nerves, some bad hops, some calls we didn’t get from the umpire. We know those are going to happen and we just try to battle through them."
Mountain Grove struck for another run on back-to-back singles in the second before Finch settled down and held the Panthers to two hits over the next 3 1/3 innings. Summit Christian got a run back in the bottom of the second on a leadoff walk by Finch and an RBI-single by Luke Moehle.
Summit Christian’s best chance came in the third, when Jimmy Sutberry, Zachary Gensky and Robbie Suhr all drew walks to load the bases with two outs. Finch was at the plate when Mountain Grove starter Brock Coffman threw a wild pitch that went to the back stop.
Sutberry charged home, but the ball bounced right back to the catcher, who threw to Coffman in time to tag Sutberry at the plate.
"I just tell them if they see it, then take it," Gage said. "And Jimmy saw it and unfortunately we got called out. It was a bang-bang play."
Summit Christian saw fewer chances after Mountain Grove relieved Coffman with its ace, 6-foot-7 senior Alex Moore, in the fourth. The Eagles did get runners to second and third with no outs to start the fourth, but Moore, who threw 81 pitches the day before in the semifinals, struck out the side and held the Eagles to a walk and a single the rest of the way.
"We were trying to scratch our way back in it, but when you’re down by three toward the end it’s hard to do any of that small-ball stuff," Gage said.
Summit Christian, 26-3, was making its third appearance in the state tournament and its second in a state title game. And while the Eagles came up achingly close to the first state title, Gage found some consolation in that the Eagles’ only other losses had come against Class 5 schools.
"If we’re going to lose to a Class 3 school, the time to lose I guess is in the state championship," Gage said.