Lee’s Summit baseball coach Jim Mellody had one simple and compelling reason for picking Joe Vandenbos to start Thursday’s Missouri Class 5 state quarterfinal against Platte County.
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 on Thursday, he was more than good.
Vandenbos pitched a two-hit shutout, which the Tigers needed to overcome excellent Pirates pitching for a 1-0 victory at Platte County for a spot in the Class 5 state tournament.
“He hasn’t had a bad outing all year,” Mellody said of Vandenbos. “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 change-up. It seemed like a good match.”
Vandenbos, a senior right-hander, has excelled this season both as spot starter and a reliever. Mellody gave him the ball Thursday against a hard-hitting Platte County lineup, Vandenbos 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 outs.
“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, loading 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 the season 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 either Jefferson City or Springfield Kickapoo June 2 at CarShield Field in O’Fallon. Mellody coached that 2005 final four team, and he also went as an assistant in 2003.
“It’s been awhile, but we’re going back and this is the right team to do it,” Mellody said.