LIBERTY, Mo. — John Sipes saw the signs again, but Platte County has just one last chance to realize the promise. The Pirates fell behind early to state-ranked Liberty in the nonconference season finale Thursday, and the Blue Jays held on for a 5-2 victory.
Platte County now enters Class 5 District 8 play as the No. 2 seed with an uneven 17-8 record that included a fast start and late struggles as clutch hitting dried up and the pitching staff struggled with consistency.
“That has been our Achilles’ Heel all year,” Sipes said. “We are one big hit away from being 22-3. We just can’t seem to get the big hit. We put pressure on them, but we’ve got to capitalize on it. That is what teams are doing to us when we make a mistake, … they capitalize on it.”
Liberty (26-9), ranked No. 5 in Class 6 in the most recent Missouri Baseball Coaches Association, hosted what was originally part of a doubleheader scheduled to be played in Platte City that ended up rained out and postponed.
As the visiting team, Platte County created an early chance to score that didn’t pan out, and the Pirates put at least one runner on base in six of seen innings. However, Liberty scored a pair in the bottom of the first inning to take a 2-0 lead, starting with Keaton O’Connor reaching on an error. A sac bunt and a walk followed, but Pirates senior starter Jackson McMahan got a pop fly for the second out.
Almost out of the inning unscathed, McMahan surrendered a bloop single between first base and right field to Jeremiah Cabuyaban, who saw the ball land just inside the foul line for a hit.
The best chance to level up or take the lead came in the second inning against Liberty ace Kai Bennett.
Platte County junior first baseman Sawyer Allen reached with a one-out single before freshman right fielder Devin Wassmann and senior Cayden Davis drew consecutive two-out walks. Bennett induced junior second baseman Ben Spence to hit a deep fly ball to left field to keep the Pirates off the board.
The bottom half of the inning provided a scare for the Pirates when McMahan, a lefty, threw a pitch to Palmer Holst, who hit a line drive right back to the mound. The ball hit McMahan’s leg, and he immediately dropped to the ground on the third-base side of the rubber.
From his knees and in some pain, McMahan picked the ball up and threw to Allen at first base.
Sipes made a beeline to the mound, as did a trainer and McMahan’s teammates to check on him. He took the line drive off the inside of his right thigh but stayed in the game and completed the inning without allowing a run and threw one more inning.
Platte County junior shortstop Cameron Lewis had a one-out single and stole second base in the top of the third, which led Liberty to make a pitching change. Karson Milbrandt then induced a groundout to end the inning, and the Blue Jays, winners of eight of the past nine, tacked on their final three runs in the bottom of the inning against McMahan to take a 5-0 lead.
O’Connor led off the inning with a double to left field and scored one pitch later as Dawson Goe laid down a bunt on the third-base line. McMahan fielded it but the throw to first base was high. O’Connor scored, and Goe ended up at second base.
“I knew that was the perfect bunt,” Sipes said. “It is hard, especially with a left-handed pitcher, but you gotta live and die with it.”
The inning could have been worse, but Platte County sophomore left fielder Jeter Mauzey threw out Cabuyaban at home to end the inning.
Wassman drew his second walk in the fourth but ended up stranded, but Platte County finally scored in the fifth. Pirates senior centerfielder Dayton Mitchell hit a one-out single before Milbrandt recorded the second out with a strikeout. He hit Mauzey with his next pitch to put two on base.
Platte County senior third baseman Sam Peterson followed a fly ball to right field on the first pitch he saw, and despite a head-first dive from the Liberty outfielder, the ball fell to the ground.
Mitchell easily scored from second, and Mauzey ended up at third base when the throw into the infield went past Sipes coaching at third base and off the netting by the Liberty dugout. Mauzey scored and Peterson ended up at second base, but he was left stranded there withe Pirates still down 5-2.
Platte County went 1-for-5 with a runner in scoring position. The only other base runner the rest of the way was Mitchell, who had a one-out single in the seventh inning.
Perhaps one of the biggest positives from the loss was the performance of junior pitcher Landon Fulk in a relief role. He entered in the fourth inning and over his three innings of work, he struck out five and allowed only three base runners.
Against Excelsior Springs just the day prior, Fulk started but lasted only one inning. He walked the bases loaded and then walked in the first of two runs he allowed.
“It is no secret he has struggled all year,” Sipes said of the right-handed pitcher. “I told him we need him to suck it up; we got to have you … you got to get it done. To come out today and do that, that is turning it on … that is flipping the switch. Landon was huge. To go through the heart of the lineup (was big), and he made them look foolish.”
This marked the fourth game Platte County played this season against a state-ranked team, finishing 0-4 in those contests. Smithville, ranked No. 10 in Class 5, beat the Pirates twice, while Class 6 No. 10 Park Hill South handed them their first loss this season during a 12-2 start to the season.
Platte County has since gone just 5-6, but the Pirates own the No. 2 seed in Class 5 District and open Tuesday against Van Horn at the Kansas City Urban Youth Baseball Academy. Sipes is feeling pretty good about his team going into that game and the possibility of a tiebreaking third matchup with Kearney and the potential to face Smithville again, as well.
“Today was a good moral victory for us even though we lost,” he said. “We competed and we did some things well that we have been working on in practice. That is what I’m most excited about going into districts.”
Platte County finished 2019 — Sipes’ first as head coach — with a 17-8 record, and a first round win would surpass that total.
Platte County 2, Winnetonka 0
The Pirates finished Suburban Conference Blue Division play with a 9-3 record with Monday’s shutout in Kansas City. They finished tied for second with Kearney behind champion Smithville.
McMahan and sophomore James Schwieder combined for a shutout, striking out seven while allowing two hits and four walks. Winnetonka stranded seven and couldn’t come up with the win despite throwing a no-hitter.
Platte County scored two unearned runs in the fifth, making the most of seven walks, a hit by pitch and one error.
Schwieder started and struck out three and walked three but left after the third inning with the score still 0-0. McMahan, who struck out four in four innings, took over and kept Winnetonka off the board, and he eventually earned the win thanks to the two-run fifth.
Davis led off the fifth with a walk for Platte County, and sophomore courtesy runner Garrett Smith stole second and third but was stuck there with two outs. Lewis then walked, and Mauzey followed with what could have been an inning-ending flyout.
Instead, Winnestonka’s centerfielder misplayed the ball, and Smith and Lewis both scored to make it 2-0. Mauzey ended up stranded at third, the last of five runners left on base.
Platte County didn’t have another runner the rest of the way, but McMahan worked around Winnetonka’s one-out double in the sixth and picked off a runner who reached on the Pirates’ only error in the seventh when he faced the minimum and finished off the victory.
Platte County 6, Excelsior Springs 3
The Pirates overcame deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to earn a nonconference victory Wednesday at Creekside Baseball Complex.
Davis tied the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the fourth, scoring on a two-out error. Platte County then took the lead with three runs in the bottom of the fifth after Pirates senior reliever Alex McClure struck out two in a 1-2-3 top half of the frame.
Mauzey poked a three-run home run to left field to start the three-run rally, and an error and two walks loaded the bases. Platte County junior catcher Jake Knudsen made it 5-3 with a sacrifice fly, and the Pirates made it a three-run lead with Wassman’s bases-loaded RBI walk.
Knudsen went 2-for-2 in addition to the sacrifice fly for Platte County, while Lewis finished 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
McClure earned the win, pitching five innings in relief of Fulk after he walked three and allowed a hit and two runs in the top of the first. Excelsior Springs added an unearned run in the third against McClure, who struck out six and allowed four hits and three walks.
Platte County cut its deficit in half in the bottom of the first with Lewis doubling and scoring on a sacrifice fly from Peterson. The Pirates then tied the score in the bottom of the second when Knudsen doubled with one out and scored after stealing third and coming home on Spence’s RBI groundout.