Platte County players and coaches pose with the Class 5 District 8 championship plaque following Thursday's win over Smithville on Thursday at Creekside Baseball Park. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Erickson saves the day, sends Platte County to playoffs for 1st time since 2017

Pirates bolt to early lead in Class 5 District 8 title game vs. Smithville, forced to hold on late while using 5 pitchers.
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Tyler Erickson inherited a bit of a mess in an conventional scenario.

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Platte County junior Tyler Erickson delivers a pitch against Winnetonka in a Class 5 District 8 semifinal vs. Winnetonka on Tuesday at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville.

No matter for Platte County’s junior right-hander, who has become the rare high-pressure closer at this level. He entered in the middle of an at-bat with a two-ball count and eventually issued a walk not charged to his pitching line. He then escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam allowing only run and leaving the potential tying runs in scoring position with a strikeout.

Erickson came back out for the seventh and worked around a two-out walk, earning a two-inning save in Platte County’s 10-8 victory over rival Smithville in Thursday’s Class 5 District 8 championship game at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville.

“My name was called, and I let my defense do the work,” Erickson said simply, noting all the big performances that led to the victory.

Platte County (24-8) ran its winning streak to six straight, earning the program’s first playoff berth since 2017 when the Pirates made the Class 5 quarterfinals before an upset loss to Lee’s Summit. This time around, they go straight to the quarterfinal round with the state up from five to six classifications.

On Saturday, Platte County — ranked No. 4 in the final Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 5 poll of the season — hosts Webb City (19-15) at 2 p.m. at Platte County High School with the winner advancing to state to play for a team trophy. The Cardinals were receiving votes in the ranking and enter on a four-game winning streak.

Platte County notched a seven-run first inning and led 9-3 after the second, only to have to hold on late. Pirates junior third baseman Nick Baker went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored, senior catcher Jake Knudsen drove in three and freshman second baseman Dayton Doll came up huge in the No. 9 spot with a 3-for-3 night that included a triple and three RBIs.

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Platte County junior third baseman Nick Baker stops a groundball in a Class 5 District 8 semifinal against Winnetonka on Tuesday at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville.

“If we keep the confidence in the order top to bottom, I have no doubt this team can do whatever is put in front of them,” said Platte County senior shortstop Cameron Lewis, who went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

Smithville (23-10), the district’s third seed, entered hoping to play spoiler after twice losing in extra innings in the teams’ prior Suburban Conference Blue Division matchups.

Instead, Platte County jumped all over Warriors junior star Ryker Edwards, who started on the mound but couldn’t get out of the first inning. Pirates junior right fielder Dayne Wimberly jumped on the second pitch in the bottom of the first for a double to right field, and Lewis walked on four pitches.

With one out, Platte County senior designated hitter Eli Nelson walked to load the bases, and Baker followed with a two-run double to left field.

Smithville recorded the second out on Knudsen’s groundout, but Nelson scored on the play. Baker came home on a wild pitch during Allen’s at-bat, which resulted in a four-pitch walk. The Pirates were up 4-0 with two outs when Smithville committed a costly error that kept the inning alive.

Doll, who started the season as a reserver and briefly lost his spot in the lineup late, then came up with a with a triple to left field to score two more and make it 6-0. The clutch hit came two pitches after Edwards exited the game with Smithville bringing in Garrett Pulse, who then allowed an RBI single to Wimberly in his second at-bat to score Doll and account for the seventh run of the first inning.

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Platte County freshman second baseman Dayton Doll watches a batted ball in a Class 5 District 8 semifinal vs. Winnetonka on Tuesday at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville.

“Our seven-run first inning set the tempo and gave us the momentum early,” Lewis said. “If we didn’t have that first inning, the game would’ve played out completely different. Starting hot like that is something every team wants, and we got it.”

However, Platte County ended up needing to use five pitchers to make the big lead stand up. The Pirates opted to start sophomore left-hander Brayden Carter, who made his debut midseason but earned more and more important innings as the postseason neared, over senior ace Sawyer Allen — the starter in a tougher-than-expected 4-2 semifinal win over Winnetonka two days earlier.

Carter needed just 12 pitches for a perfect first inning that included a strikeout, but Smithville junior Andrew Hedgecorth started the second with a walk. He then recorded two outs before allowing back-to-back singles, the second scoring a run to make it 7-1.

A hit by pitch loaded the bases and ended Carter’s day after just 1 2/3 innings. Platte County went to junior Dylan Zimmerman, who immediately walked in two runs before a strikeout ended the inning and kept the Pirates ahead 7-3.

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Platte County junior Dylan Zimmerman delivers a pitch against Winnetonka in a Class 5 District 8 semifinal Tuesday at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville.

Platte County went back ahead 9-3 in the bottom of the second when Nelson and Baker started a rally with two-out singles, and Knudsen scored them both with a single.

Smithville then started chipping away at the lead through patience at the plate, eventually drawing 11 walks. Zimmerman ended up charged with two runs in 1 1/3 innings with three walks and two strikeouts. After a clean third inning, he exited after allowing a walk and a single to start the fourth with senior left-hander Kole Jenks coming on with two on and no outs.

Jenks only recorded one out, inducing a sacrifice fly that pulled Smithville within 9-4. The Warriors then came up with a single and a walk before Platte County went to senior right-hander Landon Fulk, a key cog in the starting rotation with occasional control issues.

Fulk came up huge after allowing a walk and a two-run single that shrunk Platte County’s once comfortable lead to 9-7. He struck out the next two to escape the jam.

Platte County’s response in the bottom of the fourth included the 10th run. Baker singled with one out, and Allen and Fulk walked with two outs to load the bases. Doll’s single to right field scored one and completed his career day.

“Our lineup, up and down, has came through in the clutch all year,” Lewis said. “Dayton to come up with the hits he had was quite literally a gamechanger. He’s been wanting that all year, and he did it.”

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Platte County senior designated hitter Eli Nelson stands on first with assistant coach Todd Jaros during a Class 5 District 8 semifinal vs. Winnetonka on Tuesday at Creekside Baseball Complex in Parkville.

Back to a three-run lead, Platte County received three more strikeouts from Fulk in the fifth to help him work around two more runners. He ended up going 1 2/3 innings but would not record an out in the seventh. Instead, he started to cramp up and walked the first two batters of the seventh, leading to Erickson’s entrance on a 2-0 count to the third batter.

Erickson ended up charged with just the one walk in the seventh and provided the stable forced needed in a critical spot.

“Well, first off it was a great team win,” he said. “I feel like everyone contributed to this win, using five pitchers, and the hitters did everything a pitcher could ask for putting up seven runs in the first inning and adding on to the lead late in the game.”

In the seventh, Allen corralled a foul ball near Smithville’s dugout for the first out, and Platte County recorded the second out on a fly ball to sophomore center fielder Devin Wassmann. Edwards, who moved to center field and didn’t have a hit, walked for the second time, and Erickson went 3-1 on Hedgecorth before a foul ball ran the count full.

Hedgecorth then lofted a soft fly ball to right center field that Wassmann tracked down to start the celebration.

“Overall, it was a great team win, and I’m very proud of everyone on this team,” said Erickson, who is credited with a 2-0 record and five saves on the Pirates’ season stats.

Platte County’s journey to this point took time. The Pirates won a Blue Division championship in 2019 but never had a chance to return an experienced roster the following season, which was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Last year, Platte County entered with only centerfielder Dayton Mitchell with significant varsity experience, but a pair of long winning streaks put the Pirates on the precipice of conference and district titles. However, they faltered late and missed a share of the Blue Division crown and bowed out of the District 8 semifinals after falling behind big early to Kearney.

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Platte County sophomore centerfielder Devin Wassmann swings against Winnetonka in a Class 5 District 8 semifinal Tuesday at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville.

Mitchell graduated, but a big group of players came back this year with a senior-heavy feel. Platte County swept the two tight games with Smithville and split the season series and conference title with Kearney, which earned the district’s second seed.

Smithville dominated Kearney 9-1 in the semifinal Tuesday to set up the matchup with top-seeded Platte County, which now needs just one more win to reach the state semifinals for the first time since winning the Class 3 state championship in 2002. The Pirates’ 24 wins matches the 2017 team’s total (24-3).

Platte County 4, Winnetonka 2

The Pirates certainly weren’t perfect in the semifinal matchup Tuesday at Creekside but didn’t have to be.

Using four pitchers, Platte County overcame an early 1-0 deficit then added an insurance run late to answer Winnetonka’s single tally in the top of the sixth. Allen started on the mound after throwing a perfect game against the Griffins the last time around, and went 2 1/3 innings with five strikeouts but allowed an unearned run on a single, a hit by pitch and a throwing error on a pickoff in the second inning.

Platte County scored the next three runs but only after Carter came on in relief with one out in the third to get a strikeout and a groundout to strand a pair of runners.

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Platte County senior Landon Fulk swings at a pitch in a Class 5 District 8 game against KC East on Monday at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville.

Winnetonka continued to lead until the bottom of the third, which started with Fulk reaching on an error. He was stuck at second with two outs when Wimberly was hit by a pitch, and Lewis followed with an RBI double.

Platte County took a 3-1 lead after Carter worked a perfect top of the fourth with two strikeouts. In the bottom of the inning, Baker singled and stole second then came in with the go-ahead run on Nelson’s RBI single to center field. He stole second and came home on Knudsen’s single.

All three back-to-back-to-back singles were to center field.

Platte County nearly made it 4-1 when Doll doubled to right but was thrown out trying to get to third before Zimmerman, courtesy runner for Knudsen, crossed home. Zimmerman then came on in relief in the fifth and struck out three straight with two runners on. He eventually went 2 2/3 innings with four strikeouts while allowing an unearned run in the sixth after a two-out double and an error helped the Griffins cut it to 3-2.

In the bottom of the inning, Platte County needed just two batters to answer and make it 4-2. Baker singled and stole second and third and came home on another RBI single for Nelson. Baker and Nelson combined to go 4-for-5 with a walk, three runs scored and two RBIs.

Zimmerman retired the first two batters in the seventh before allowing a single and a walk. Erickson came on and threw two pitches to earn the save, getting a flyout to left field to end it.

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Platte County senior catcher Jake Knudsen slides into home in a Class 5 District 8 game against KC East on Monday at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville.

Platte County 21, KC East 2

The Pirates scored 21 unanswered runs in a lopsided first round game Monday at Creekside.

East took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first before senior Brett Domann came on in relief in short order to work out of the initial jam. He struck out seven in 2 2/3 innings, allowing just one hit.

Platte County didn’t stay behind long, sending 22 batters to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. The first 16 reached successfully with only a failed attempt to steal home breaking up the run. Big hits included Wimberley’s leadoff double, Nelson’s three-run double to make it 3-2, a two-run triple for Knudsen, Allen’s RBI double and Wimberley’s two-run single as the lineup turned over.

Up 8-2 at that point, Wimberley made the first out trying to steal home, but Baker scored another run with a fielder’s choice, Wassmann came home on a passed ball, and Allen cleared the bases with a three-run triple. The Pirates added the final three of 17 runs in the first inning with two outs on Doll’s RBI single and a two-run inside-the-park home run for Wimberly in his third at-bat of the frame.

Domain struck out the side in the second, and Platte County junior catcher Cameron Dean scored Baker with an RBI triple. Wimberly and sophomore Brian Chandler added RBI singles in a four-run second. Wimberly finished 4-for-4 with five RBIs, while nearly hitting for the cycle, and Nelson went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and Allen 2-for-2 with three RBIs.

Domain worked around a one-out single in the third to invoke the run rule.

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