Platte County players lift the Class 5 state championship trophy following a 6-1 victory over Festus on Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark. ROSS MARTIN/PC Preps Extra

Platte County piles up to celebrate Class 5 state championship

Pirates complete memorable run with 6-1 victory over Festus to earn program’s 2nd title behind pitching of Allen, Carter plus clutch hits for Knudsen, Hedrick.
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OZARK, Mo. — Sawyer Allen let loose the final pitch of his Platte County career, watched the swing and miss and then pumped both fists toward the night air at U.S. Baseball Park.

Platte County senior pitcher Sawyer Allen starts to drop to his back after recording a strikeout to finish a 6-1 win over Festus in the Class 5 state championship game Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

The senior left-hander might have made a mistake, falling backward on to the mound and opening himself up as the congregation point. Every player on the Pirates roster joined what became a celebratory pile with Allen at the bottom after he struck out the final batter to complete a 6-1 victory over Festus on Saturday night in the Class 5 state championship game, securing just the second title in program history and first since they won it all in Class 3A in 2002.

“To see everyone get this ring and knowing how hard this team has worked,” Platte County senior pitcher/outfielder Landon Fulk said, “it’s just amazing. Everyone has worked so hard, and they deserve this.”

Uniquely, Allen started and finished the win on the mound — a product of a gutsy pitch count plan the Platte County coaching staff implemented for the state games on back-to-back nights. He threw four innings total with nine strikeouts while allowing only three hits and no walks. In between, Pirates sophomore Brayden Carter supplied three innings and ended up tagged with a hard-luck unearned run in the bottom of the seventh despite striking out three and giving up just two hits.

Platte County senior catcher Jake Knudsen continued his run of clutch hitting with an early RBI RBI single, giving him five runs driven in over the final two games. The initial tally held up until sophomore Jordan Hedrick supplied a two-run, two-out single in the sixth on just his second at-bat of his career, and Festus ceded three in a disastrous top of the seventh that sent the Pirates into the final half inning with a 6-0 cushion.

Platte County senior shortstop Cameron Lewis dives onto a celebratory pile of players following the Pirates’ 6-1 win over Festus in the Class 5 state championship game Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

Making the lead hold up after a few ultimately meaningless nervy moments, Platte County (27-8) completed a swift two-year rebuild following the cancelation of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. The Pirates went into last year with virtually no experience and enjoyed a successful but disappointing season that ended in the Class 5 District 8 semifinals, came back this spring minus all-state OF/1B Jeter Mauzey after his transfer but eventually won 17 of their final 19 — a stretch that included locking up a share of the Suburban Conference Blue Division title, earning the program’s first playoff berth since 2017, advancing to the state semifinals for only the second time ever and matching the 2002 team’s title run.

The stretch right before the closing run included a 3-0 shutout of Liberty North, which earlier Saturday captured the Class 6 state championship.

“Oh my gosh,” Platte County coach John Sipes said. “I just told them how proud of them I was for the senior leadership they had, just the work that they put in. I told them you are deserving of this because of you missed your 2020 season, so this was just the perfect ending for them.”

Festus (27-9) came in off a dramatic extra-inning upset of defending state champion Willard but managed only five singles and might not have scored without a couple of late miscues.

Platte County senior catcher Jake Knudsen tags out Festus baserunner Jackson Gross during the Class 5 state championship game Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

Staked to a 1-0 lead on Knudsen’s single in the top of the fourth, Platte County immediately turned back the Tigers’ best chance in the bottom of the inning. Allen yielded a leadoff single to junior outfielder Jackson Gross before recording his seventh strikeout and inducing what a ground ball that should have produced at least one out. Instead, the umpire ruled freshman second baseman Dayton Doll missed the base while taking a toss from senior shortstop Cameron Lewis to try and force out the lead runner.

Festus then came up with a single to right field to load the bases. Sipes then made the decision to lift Allen and go to Carter, who only made his varsity debut in early April with a start of 6 1/3 innings in the win over Liberty North, and no one doubted the move.

“(Brayden’s) been awesome,” Lewis said, “and he’s going to continue to be great. I love that kid.”

On the very first pitch from Carter, Festus junior catcher Tyler Bizzle lifted a fly ball into an awkward part of shallow right center field. Platte County sophomore centerfielder Devin Wassmann ranged over to make the catch but appeared a bit surprised when the Tigers’ runner at third base tagged up and went to score.

Platte County sophomore Jordan Hedrick follows through on a two-run single during the Pirates’ 6-1 victory over Festus in the Class 5 state championship game Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

Wassmann uncorked a flat-footed throw that perfectly hit Knudsen on the third-base side of home plate, allowing him to easily tag out Gross for an inning-ending double play that led to a boisterous Platte County celebration with the 1-0 lead amazingly intact. The Pirates also recorded a key out on an outfield assist for the second straight game after junior right fielder Dayne Wimberly and Knudsen connected the night before in a 5-3 win over Fort Zumwalt East.

“It was right to the chest — a one-hopper, real easy to handle — and it was easy to get that tag to the runner,” Knudsen said. “You know when you get that tag down, and you know the ones that are close. But it wasn’t a sweeping tag, that one. It touched him so it was a real easy call for the umpire.”

Platte County’s next two runs to extend the lead to 3-0 came with only one hit in the sixth.

Wassmann and junior Dylan Robertson opened with back-to-back walks, but Bizzle gunned down the first runner trying to steal before the second reached However, Gross came into relieve Moore for Festus after the second free pass. Pirates junior third baseman Nick Baker then beat out a potential inning-ending double play to keep the frame going, and senior designated hitter Eli Nelson and Knudsen followed with walks to load the bases.

Sipes then made another big move, lifting senior left fielder and state semifinal hero on the mound Landon Fulk for Hedrick in a pinch-hitting spot. Hedrick’s only other at-bat this season came in the Class 5 District 8-opening 21-2 thrashing of Kansas City East because the sophomore broke a bone in his ankle just prior to tryouts this season and remained unavailable until late May and out of the rotation by the time he was healthy.

Platte County junior Dylan Robertson (20) and sophomore Devin Wassmann come back to the dugout after scoring on a Festus error in the seventh inning of the Class 5 state championship game Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

Hedrick delivered on a 1-1 count, singling to the opposite field to score Baker and Nelson against the hard-throwing Gross.

“Jordy has some of the fastest hands on the team, and everything he hits, he hits hard,” Sipes said. “With the speed of this guy, I knew he would catch up to it, and he’d blister one. I just had a feeling.”

After Festus went down in order in the bottom of the sixth, Platte County opened with four straight singles from Wimberly, Lewis, Wassmann and Robertson. but didn’t score at that point thanks to another caught stealing. Baker then lofted a comfortable sacrifice fly to left field to score Lewis, before the Tigers made a monumental mistake.

Nelson grounded back to the mound, but senior Connor Hulsey — Festus’ third pitcher used — fielded an inexplicably tried to throw to third base to force out Wassmann. Bewildered senior third baseman Conner McDonald not even at the bag frantically tried to redirect him only to have the ball sail past him and down the left field line.

Wassmann easily scored, and Robertson chugged all the way around from first base to make it 6-0.

Platte County senior shortstop Cameron Lewis prepares to make a throw to first base during the Class 5 state championship game against Festus on Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

“That was huge,” Lewis said. “It was a 50-50 ball game until that clutch hit by Jordan and those few runs that ended the game.”

For the first time all weekend, Knudsen didn’t come up with a key hit, grounding out to end the sixth, but Platte County’s 6-0 lead seemed insurmountable.

Festus found a little bit of life with a single that awkwardly dropped in front of Lewis at shortstop and went into the left field — the first hit against Carter — and an error on Baker at third base to start the seventh. Tigers senior pinch-hitter Kaleb Kennedy then sent a ball to right field that Wimberly looked to have tracked before diving late and coming up empty in what became another well-placed single.

However, Kennedy rounded first and made his way almost to second base before realizing the Festus runners in front held up thinking Wimberly might make the catch. The throw from the outfield went to Baker, and he threw over to first base to record the inning’s first out while the Tigers’ first and only run came home from third.

“The run didn’t matter to me,” Sipes said. “Obviously, I’d like to have the shutout, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get an out in that situation, and they did it. That was the first time in all of the postseason the moment got too big for us, but they responded well.”

Carter then left the game with Allen coming out of the bullpen, giving him both starts in the state game plus a relief appearance.

A passed ball allowed the final Festus runner to reach third base, but junior Ian Brown struck out swinging on a full count. Allen then went 1-0 on the final batter before throwing three straight strikes — the last two looking — to end the game.

Platte County senior Sawyer Allen delivers a pitch during the Class 5 state championship game against Festus on Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

“Brought in Sawyer, and I think when that happened the tension was gone. Our big dog was back in to finish it,” Sipes said.

Allen opened the semifinal against Fort Zumwalt East with a strict limit of 29 pitches, and he exited in the second inning with Platte County down 2-0. The Pirates came back to win, meaning Allen could start again with no enforced pitch limit, and he struck out two in a 1-2-3 first, struck out three straight after allowing a leadoff single in the second and then retired the side in order again in the third.

Platte County then broke through in the fourth when Baker blasted a triple to the wall in spacious center field.

Nelson followed with the first of his two walks, and Knudsen delivered with a single to left field that brought Baker in to make it 1-0 against Festus junior Nathaniel Moore, who went 5 1/3 innings with five walks and six strikeouts while taking his first loss of the season. The Pirates lost a runner on a pickoff while looking to sacrifice bunt, and a strikeout ended the threat before it could become a big inning.

Platte County sophomore Brayden Carter delivers a pitch against Festus in the Class 5 state championship game Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

“Our offense is so electric, I knew we would get more, and we ended up getting more,” Knudsen said. “

Platte County also started to tax the Festus pitchers with long at-bats that yielded seven singles and seven walks.

“We just battle. That’s been our mojo all year long,” Lewis said. “We’ve been doing it all year and came up clutch again.”

Platte County ultimately overcame three errors and three baserunners lost on the base paths to protect the slim lead before eventually extending it out to six runs.

Allen hit his hiccup in the fourth and then gave way to Carter, who thrived with his curveball-first approach after the unorthodox 8-2 double play to escape the original jam. He worked around a one-out error in the fifth and then came up with a 1-2-3 sixth before experiencing some tough luck in the seventh in what became his third straight critical relief appearance that also included saves in the state quarterfinal and semifinal victories.

“He has zero fear,” Sipes said of Carter. “He completely trust his ability and knows what he can do. He throws strikes. He keeps them off balance with the curve, and that 68 mph fastball looks like 88 after that curveball. He’s just a good pitcher.”

Platte County junior third baseman Nick Baker looks up at the crowd as the Pirates celebrate a 6-1 win over Festus in the Class 5 state championship game Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

Platte County never trailed against Festus in a result not nearly as comfortable as the 2002 team’s 19-1, five-inning victory over St. Mary’s (St. Louis) in the 2002 title game behind a 15-strikeout no-hitter for Tyler Shaw. Still, the Pirates completed a magical run that included overcoming early deficits in their first two district wins and using big early innings to pull away from Smithville in the District 8 championship and Webb City in the quarterfinals before another comeback over Fort Zumwalt East on Friday night.

A nine-player senior class that included Allen, Fulk, Lewis, Knudsen, Nelson, pitcher Kole Jenks, 2021 all-conference performer Ben Spence and reserves Brett Domann and Kyle Box settling into their roles and melding with a talented crop of underclassmen. They all combined into one victorious mass in the middle of the turf infield Saturday night, having etched their names into program history.

After unpiling, players and coaches accepted their medals and state championship trophy. They exchanged hugs with each other and took photos with friends and family.

For some, this marked the final competitive game of their careers so Knudsen didn’t fret too much after coming out of the celebration with a gimpy left shoulder. He occasionally grimaced and rotated his arm at the joint in some pretty obvious discomfort as a likely result of some of the antics in creating the stack of players.

“This is it for me. I knew this would be my last two baseball games,” he said with a smile. “Yeah, I might have some issues with my left shoulder, but it was worth it.”

Platte County seniors (from left) Kyle Box, Cameron Lewis, Jake Knudsen, Landon Fulk, Kole Jenks, Eli Nelson, Brett Domann and Ben Spence with the Class 5 state championship trophy Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

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