Lee’s Summit baseball coach Jim Mellody had one simple and compelling reason for picking Joe Vandenbos to start the Class 5 state quarterfinal against Platte County May 25.
It wasn’t because Vandenbos was a regular in the Tigers’ rotation. Nor was he their shutdown closer. He was just, well, always good.
Against Platte County, he was more than good.
Vandenbos pitched a two-hit shutout, which the Tigers needed to overcome equally excellent Pirates pitching staff and eke out a 1-0 victory at Platte County for the Tigers first trip to the state tournament in 12 years.
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“He hasn’t had a bad outing all year,” Mellody said. “Every time he’s pitched he’s kept us in the game. I know they’re an offensive team, they swing at a lot of fastballs, and Joe’s best pitch is his changup. It seemed like a good match.”
Vandenbos, a junior right-hander, has excelled this season as both a spot starter and a reliever. Mellody gave him the ball against a hard-hitting Platte County lineup and he responded by giving up singles in the first two innings and retiring all but two batters from the third inning on. He wasn’t overpowering – he only struck out three – but he coaxed grounders and fly balls and let his defense do the rest.
“I felt great,” Vandenbos said. “I just relied on my defense a lot, threw strikes and went from there.”
Vandenbos also had three walks, all intentional, and all involving Platte County catcher Justin Mitchell. The Pirates’cleanup hitter came into the game batting .470 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs, and Lee’s Summit gave him a free pass every time, and every time with two out.
“Mitchell is probably the best hitter in the city, Kansas or Missouri side,” Mellody said. “I was not going to let him beat us.”
The strategy did set up Vandenbos’ only real jam in the first inning. After putting Mitchell on, Vandenbos gave up a single to Drew Paremely and hit Austin Gammill to load the bases. Vandenbos escaped by getting the next batter to ground out.
“I got to admit I was sweating it there in the first inning with the bases loaded,” Mellody said.
Platte County starter Jared Wilson made Mellody uneasy by throwing three perfect innings before Lee’s Summit got its first two hits and left the bases loaded in the fourth. The Tigers got their run in the fifth when Spencer Parker singled, advanced on a bunt and another single and scored when Grant Baird hit into a fielder’s choice.
That was all Vandenbos would need.
“He kept us off balance,” said Platte County coach Rob Davenport, whose Pirates finished 23-3. “We hit the ball well and we kept expecting that to happen at some point, but he seemed to get better as the game went on.”
Lee’s Summit, 23-9, goes on to its first state-tournament appearance since 2005 and will face Jefferson City 6:30 p.m. Friday at CarShield Field in O’Fallon. Mellody coached that final four team, and he also went as an assistant in 2003.
“It’s been a while, but we’re going back and this is the right team to do it,” Mellody said.