When the second Kearney runner reached base, Callie Peoples faced a decision in theory. Platte County’s coach showed little hesitation in sticking with her senior pitcher on the mound.
Chloe Helmer issued a one-out walk in the top of the seventh Thursday at Platte Ridge Park but needed just seven more pitches to work out of the jam. She finished off a 6-0 complete game shutout victory over the rival Bulldogs on a memorable senior night for herself, catcher Ali Gill and outfielder Koree Church.
Most importantly, Helmer’s seven innings of three-hit, six-walk pitching protected Platte County from showing Kearney junior Mackenzie Shields and sophomore Kallie Hitzelberger with the two teams likely to meet a week later in the Class 4 District 8 semifinals.
“Sure, I was nervous just because we’ve been here before and have given up some runs before,” Peoples said. “I knew having a 6-0 lead and her getting that first out was really important and then she was pitching so well tonight and had so much confidence, I knew she’d be able to get it done for us.”
Platte County junior TK Lawson’s three-run home run to left field in the bottom of the fifth broke the Suburban Conference Blue Division matchup open, staking the Pirates to a 5-0 lead. Anna Crowell, a sophomore, led off the sixth with a double and scored an insurance run on sophomore infielder Emma Reed’s groundout to give Helmer more cushion.
Kearney ended up stranding two and finished with 11 left on base against Helmer. The Bulldogs stranded six in scoring position total, including at least one in each of the first three innings and leaving the bases loaded in the top of the third.
“It was a little rocky last game (against Kearney),” said Helmer, who struck out two and also worked around a pair of errors. “This game, everyone was up on the fence, and it was great. To be able to come back and not let them score at all was really nice.”
“I’m so proud of Chloe,” Church added when talking about the clutch pitching performance.
The rematch stood in stark contrast to a wild 22-11 Platte County win in the first meeting between the two these year.
Platte County sophomore left fielder Avery Webster led off the bottom of the first with a hit by pitch and ended up stranded at third after three straight groundouts. The Pirates wouldn’t have another chance to score until the third when junior shortstop Demi Riechers led off with a single, and Reed reached on an error after attempting a sacrifice bunt.
Webster followed with an RBI single, but Kearney cut down Reed trying to score for the inning’s first out. However, Webster alertly advanced all the way to third on the play and then scored on junior center fielder Abby Reynolds’ sacrifice fly.
“I’m just really proud of the way we keep working on offense,” Peoples said.
After not taking advantage of Shields’ double in the fourth, Platte County struck again with two-out offense in the fifth. Webster and Reynolds worked walks, and Lawson followed with her team-leading seventh home run on a 1-1 pitch to increase the lead to 5-0. Helmer worked around a two-out double in the sixth and the last of her two walks in the seventh to finish out the victory.
Afterward, Platte County celebrated Senior Night for Church, Gill and Helmer, a chance to recognize the work of a smaller class that might have exceeded initial expectations.
Platte County improved to 16-9 overall with the win over Kearney and finished 9-2 in Blue Division play, missing out on a canceled game against Winnetonka. The Pirates came in second to Smithville in the final league standings.
“Definitely didn’t think we’d make it this far,” Gill said.
“But here we are,” Helmer added.
Platte County entered as the defending conference champions after making a run to the Class 4 state semifinals in 2020 with a joint third-place finish. However, the Pirates lost six important seniors and came into this season with a lot of unknowns after losing fourth-year starters at pitcher (Emma Koeneke), catcher (Hayden Humes) and shortstop (Halle Magee) plus 2/3 of the outfield, including all-state centerfielder Maddie Carter.
The three seniors each played a key role in Platte County avoiding a step back and recording another winning season.
Helmer has been part of a three-pronged pitching attack with a 2-1 record in 12 appearances (10 starts). Gill, who went 1-for-3 on senior night, has been solid behind the plate and her three home runs rank second behind Lawson for the Pirates to go with a .383 batting average and .491 on-base percentage.
Church started the season as a backup but ranks third for Platte County with a .413 batting average and 24 RBIs, having recorded six in a recent win over Raytown South. She also has a .491 on-base percentage and a home run.
“They’ve all done really well bringing the culture of the team,” Peoples said. “It’s a different culture from last year, for sure, but they all get along so well together. It’s just really good to see them all fight for a spot, earn a spot and then go out and play so well tonight.”
Smithville earned the No. 1 seed in Class 4 District 8, which will be hosted at Excelsior Springs this week. The Warriors were the runnerup to Platte County a year ago.
Platte County garnered the second seed over Kearney, and the Pirates open against No. 7 seed William Chrisman on Tuesday. They will likely play the third-seeded Bulldogs fo the third time this season in Thursday’s semifinal round.
In 2020, Platte County reached the state playoffs for the for the first time since a run to a Class 3 state runnerup finish in 2014. The Pirates will now be seeking back-to-back postseason trips.
“I’m fine with the 2 seed,” Peoples said. “I told the girls — and they know this, too — we can play with anybody. On any given night, we can pitch with anybody, play defense with anybody and for sure hit against anybody. I’m not worried about us.”
Platte County 10, Excelsior Springs 8, 8 innings
The Pirates picked up a key comeback victory Tuesday in Excelsior Springs against a district opponent now on the opposite side of the bracket.
Lawson plated the tying run in the top of the seventh inning with a sacrifice fly to send the game to extras tied 8-8, and Crowell’s RBI double in the top of the eighth to score Reed, who reached on a one-out triple and became the winning run. Excelsior Springs, which ended up with the No. 5 seed in Class 4 District 8, lost leads of 5-3 and 8-7 in the loss.
The two teams combined for 11 errors.
Platte County entered the top of the seventh in need of at least one run, and Webster led off with a single before Reynolds reached on a throwing error after attempting a sacrifice bunt. With runners at second and third after the play, Lawson hit the tying sacrifice fly to right.
However, Excelsior Springs avoided going behind with a strikeout and a groundout to leave Reynolds stranded in scoring position. After the Tigers went down in order against Shields in the bottom of the seventh, Reed started the winning rally with a triple to right field. Crowell followed with a double to right to make it 9-8, and she scored three batters later with two outs on a passed ball.
Shields, who pitched 3 1/3 innings in relief with no hits allowed and two strikeouts, worked around a two-out walk in the bottom of the eighth to earn the win.
Hitzelberger started and gave up eight runs — only one earned due to errors — in 4 2/3 innings. She allowed seven hits and four walks, while striking out three.
Reynolds went 2-for-5 with a double two runs scored, while Lawson drove in three with one of her two hits a double for Platte County. Shields added two more hits, including a triple, and two runs scored with Hitzelberger helping her own cause on a solo home run in the second inning.
Platte County staked Hitzelberger to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first on Lawson’s RBI single to score Webster after she was hit by a pitch and stole second with one out. Lawson scored on a pair of errors, including one with two outs that extended the inning.
Hitzelberger’s home run in the top of the second made it 3-1 after she walked three in the bottom of the first to allow a run, only escaping the jam on a double play lineup with the bases loaded. Excelsior Springs came right back with four runs in the second to take its initial lead with the Pirates committing three errors in the frame.
Platte County immediately tied the score on Shields’ one-out RBI triple to score Reynolds, who led off the top of the third with a single. Shields scored to tie it 5-5 on Church’s sacrifice fly. The Pirates took the lead again on back-to-back doubles for Reynolds and Lawson in the top of the fifth, and Shields scored later in the inning after a pair of errors helped advance her to third with one out.
Excelsior Springs avoided further damage with a double play, and then took the lead right back. Platte county committed two more errors in the bottom of the fifth, allowing three more runs, all unearned, to score against Hitzelberger. The Pirates trailed 8-7 until the top of the seventh and then won it in the eighth, scoring the game’s last three runs.
Platte County 15, Raytown South 0, 3 innings
The Pirates won a Blue Division matchup in walkoff fashion Monday at Platte Ridge Park.
Church recorded three of Platte County’s nine hits, drove in six runs and scored three times. She homered and came up a triple shy of the cycle without even receiving the requisite four at-bats needed to accomplish the feat, while Lawson added a two-run home run in the second.
Helmer started and worked around a one-out single in the first. The Pirates immediately loaded the bases with three one-out walks before Church doubled to center field to clear the bases and make it 3-0 in what ended up a four-run first.
In the second, Reynolds reached on an error ahead of Lawson’s two-run home run, and Church hit a solo shot to left field two batters later with two outs. Platte County ended up scoring five in the inning with two outs, as Reed scored on Webster’s single after a pair of errors and two walks extended the inning.
Helmer ended up working around two runners in the third — one reaching with a hit by pitch and the other on an error — to end up with a three-inning complete game victory. Church had a two-run single in the bottom of the third for Platte County before scoring the walkoff run on Hitzelberger’s fielder’s choice with the bases loaded and no outs.