EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. — Abby Reynolds picked a convenient time for her first career home run.
Platte County’s junior centerfielder launched a three-run shot in the bottom of the fourth inning against Excelsior Springs in the Class 4 District 8 championship game to spark the Pirates to a 9-4 victory Saturday at Excelsior Springs High School. Excelsior Springs, the No. 5 seed coming off a semifinal upset of Smithville, plated three in the top half of the inning to briefly tie the score.
Reynolds’ one-out home run to center field immediately put second-seeded Platte County back in control to earn a second straight playoff appearance.
“They had momentum and so I knew we had to come down and take that momentum and bring it back to us,” Reynolds said. “Two runners on and a 2-1 count, and it was my time to shine. I knew I could do what I needed to do.”
Reynolds finished 3-for-4 with two of Platte County’s extra-base hits, drove in three and scored three in a career performance. A starter for parts of her freshman season, she received an unexpected opportunity in the spotlight for last year’s postseason when all-state outfielder Maddie Carter ended up quarantined for the Pirates’ Class 4 quarterfinal win over Grain Valley and the semifinal loss to Webb City.
Now, Reynolds played perhaps the biggest part in sending Platte County back to the playoffs, which start with a 5 p.m. Thursday trip to Nevada’s Bushwhacker Field to play the District 7 champion Tigers (20-10).
“This is huge for our confidence,” Platte County coach Callie Peoples said of repeating as district champs. “This team is young; we’ve got only three seniors and the rest are sophomores and juniors. It is huge because it gives them confidence. It shows what we can do when we put all the pieces together.”
After needing a comeback to beat Kearney for the third time this season in the semifinals, Platte County built leads of 2-0 and 4-1 in the early stages of the title game.
Excelsior Springs (11-18) then chased Pirates senior starter Chloe Helmer in the top of the fourth and scored the tying run against junior reliever/third baseman Mackenzie Shields. Helmer finished allowing five hits and two walks while allowing three runs — two earned — but a wild pitch gave the Tigers the run to knot the game at 4-4 before Shields stranded a runner at third to escape further damage.
“That game could’ve turned at any point and I think our girls knew that and I think their girls knew it,” Platte County coach Callie Peoples said said. “We definitely knew that as coaches it could. We’ve been in that situation before. I knew we could get it done; we just had to stay mentally focused and give it our all for seven innings.”
A flyout started the bottom of the fourth for Platte County before sophomore No. 9 hitter Emma Reed was hit by a pitch and sophomore outfielder Avery Webster followed with an RBI single. Reynolds then deposited the 2-1 pitch over the the centerfield fence for the speedy outfielder’s first home run of the season and three-year career. She repeated, “Go Ball. Go,” while running down the first-base line before going into an animated home run trot.
Once players in the dugout erupted in cheers, Reynolds knew the ball cleared the fence, but her speed around the base didn’t slow down much.
Platte County senior catcher Ali Gill added an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, scoring Reynolds after her double. Hannah Mand, a junior courtesty runner for Gill, eventually scored on a passed ball for a final insurance run and a 9-4 lead for Shields to protect. She earned the win, allowing only the initial run and finishing with 3 1/3 innings of relief, allowing only two hits and two walks while striking out one.
The matchup came just 11 days after Platte County needed a late comeback to beat Excelsior Springs 10-8 in extra innings in a regular season meeting. The Pirates lost an early lead in that game before tying the score in the top of the seventh and taking the lead back and the win courtesy of two runs in the top of the eighth.
In the rematch, Platte County sophomore outfielder Anna Crowell hit a two-run triple in the second and senior outfielder Koree Church added a two-run single in the third to help the Pirates build a 4-1 lead. They needed two defensive plays to keep the game tied through the top of the fourth inning.
Excelsior Springs loaded the bases with a single and two walks against Helmer, who then induced a ground ball back to the mound and her throw home cut down the runner. Shields then came to the mound with one out, and her first pitch skipped past the catcher to allow a run to score.
The first batter to face Shields walked to load the bases again, and another errant pitch ended up creating the second out. Gill retrieved the ball and threw home to the pitcher covering for the second out. Mallory Millsap hit a two-out single to make it 4-3 before the wild pitch scored the tying run.
Shields came back to the mound with a three-run lead and didn’t bobble again.
“Mackenzie really loves those situations, and I knew she would thrive,” Peoples said.
Platte County’s back-to-back playoff trips came after the Pirates lost four district championship game in a span of five years. They have now won two straight after avoiding Smithville, which won two of three regular season matchups between the two teams including both Suburban Conference Blue Division meetings to take the league crown after they shared it a year earlier.
Now, Platte County (19-9) has a chance to make the semifinals for the third time in its past three playoff appearances (2014 in Class 3 and 2020) with a win over Nevada. The three most recent meetings between the two teams came in the 2009 and 2012 Carthage Invitationals.
Their three previous meetings came in the Carthage Invitational in southwest Missouri between 2009 and 2012.
Platte County and Nevada have three common opponents this year: Harrisonville, Holden and Kearney. Both had a great deal of success with Platte County going 4-1, while Nevada was 3-0 and claimed a win over Holden, which beat the Pirates 4-3 in the season-opening Greater Kansas City Classic.
Platte County 13, Kearney 4
The Pirates overcame deficits of 3-0 and 4-3 to pull away in a Class 4 District 8 semifinal Thursday in Excelsior Springs.
The teams met for the third time this season, and Platte County improved to 3-0 in those matchups. This one more closely resembled the wild 22-11 result in the first game than the controlled 6-0 victory late in the regular season. Webster went 2-for-4 with four RBIs — three on a home run that erased the original 3-0 Kearney lead — and Reynolds, junior shortstop Demi Riechers, Crowell and Reed also had multi-hit games to help the Pirates put up back-to-back five-run innings in the fifth and sixth.
The No. 2 seed by virtue of the previous two head-to-head wins, Platte County trailed 3-0 before ever coming to bat in the bottom of the first.
Kearney plated three unearned runs in the top of the first with help from two errors on the Pirates. This ended up the biggest blemish for Platte County sophomore starter Kallie Hitzelberger, who allowed only five hits and two walks while striking out six. Webster evened the score at 3-3 with a two-out home run center field to score Crowell and Reed. Riechers and Crowell started the inning with back-to-back one-out singles, and Reed reached on a fielder’s choice ahead of Webster, who blasted the first pitch she saw for her second home run of the season.
However, Kearney answered back in the top of the third with a solo home run to take the lead back at 4-3.
The advantage held until the bottom of the fifth. Platte County batted around in the inning after Reynolds started the rally with an 0-2 triple to right field. The Bulldogs then intentionally walked junior first baseman TK Lawson, who reached that way in all four at-bats, and Gill drew a free pass with Reynolds scoring on a passed ball during the lengthy at-bat to tie the score.
After another passed ball, Lawson scored on Shields’ sacrifice fly to put Platte County ahead for the first time at 5-4.
Kearney nearly prevented further damage, but Riechers hit a two-out RBI double to increase the lead to two, and Crowell and Reed came up with back-to-back run-scoring singles to make it 8-4. The Pirates nearly walked off the game on the run rule in the sixth after sending 10 more to the plate. Reynolds led off with a single before Lawson’s fourth and final intentional walk and a walk for Shields loaded the bases.
Platte County slowly added the five additional runs on a Church fielder’s choice, Riechers single, Reed single and Webster bases-loaded walk. Riechers came home on a passed ball to make it 13-4 with Webster and Reed moving into scoring position. Reed ended up picked off third with Reynolds at the plate.
After allowing the one-out home run in the third, Hitzelberger retired 11 straight before working around a pair of Kearney singles in the seventh to finish off the win.
Platte County 19, William Chrisman 3, 4 innings
The Pirates plated 10 in a chaotic bottom of the fourth in Tuesday’s first round district matchup to leave Excelsior Springs with a walkoff victory after Gill’s two-run home run.
William Chrisman failed to record an out in the frame with 10 Platte County batters coming to the plate and all 10 scoring. Gill opened with a walk before Shields was hit by a pitch. Church then doubled them both home, and the Bears loaded the bases with a walk and another hit by pitch.
Reed followed with a grand slam to increase the lead to 15-3.
Platte County immediately started the rally back up on a triple to left for Webster, and a walk and an error scored two more. Gill came to the plate for the second time and hit the first pitch she saw over the center field fence to finish the game.
William Chrisman walked seven, hit four batters and committed three errors.
Gill, Reed and Shields all homered, while Crowell also had a double for Platte County, which led 3-0 in the first before allowing three straight runs. The Pirates then came up with six in the third and 10 in the fourth to pull away for the decisive victory. Helmer started and allowed only one earned run in four innings, allowing five hits and a walk, while striking out one.
Shields opened the scoring with a three-run home run to center field in the bottom of the first for Platte County. William Chrisman had just tied the score when Reynolds came to the plate to lead off the bottom of the third, and she immediately drew a walk. Lawson and Gill both singled to load the bases, but the Bears almost escaped the jam.
Shields lined into a double play, but the next five batters for Platte county reached. Church came up with a two-run, two out single, and Crowell added a two-run double to make it 7-3. Reed contributed an RBI single and then scored two batters later on a two-out error to increase the lead to six.
Gill, Church and Reed all had three hits apiece, and Reed drove in a game-high five for Platte County. Reynolds scored three runs despite not having a hit but walking twice, while Shields, Church, Riechers, Crowell, Reed and Mand finished with two runs scored apiece.