Rebuilt West Platte makes improbable playoff run

Nobody wearing West Platte blue saw this coming. An improbable Bluejays playoff run continued with a 1-0 walk-off win over Concordia on a sultry Memorial Day in Weston. The exhilarating victory pushed the Jays record to 16-6, stretched their winning streak to nine games and set up a quarterfinal playoff game versus Archie, 18-7, at 5 p.m. today (Wednesday) in Weston. A win today and West Platte will advance to the Class 2 final four playoffs for the second straight season. When the season began, West Platte first-year coach Tanner Lawson didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, the Jays roster was littered with several experienced players, but it also was without several prime time players from a team that came within one out of winning a state championship last year. Lawson knew that building a one-for-all team atmosphere was key. “I told our guys, hey we lost four all-state players,” Lawson said. “We can’t just step on the field and win because we are West Platte.” Through the first two-thirds of the season, the team held its own and played .500 baseball. Then, about a month ago, Lawson said, it all clicked for the Bluejays. “We started playing really sound, fundamental baseball: making the routine plays, pitching well and getting clutch hits, ” he said. The result: nine straight wins, including a 5-2 upset of an East Buchanan team in last week’s District 16 title game the Jays had already lost to twice this season. Then came Monday’s sectional playoff, a fast-paced, well-played game that saw both starting pitchers put zeroes on the board. Concordia senior Cass Heimsoth was virtually unhittable. He struck out 11 and allowed just two hits — singles by Luke Horseman and McKaulley Stephenson through the first six innings. West Platte junior Tanner Lintner was equally impressive, striking out eight and allowing just two singles himself. As tight pitching duels usually do, the game came down to one crucial mistake. With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the seventh, West Platte’s Brett Shephardson punched a single to right field. Ben Heili followed with a walk, moving Shephardson to second. Horseman then rolled a slow grounder to Concordia shortstop Austin Hon, who made a wild throw to first. As the ball trickled away from first base, Shephardson rounded third and bolted to home. Concordia first baseman Trent McGinnis’ throw beat Shephardson to the plate, but catcher Jordan Schlueter couldn’t hang on to the ball. Game over, Jays win 1-0. Lintner said he had confidence his teammates would find a way to win. “I always have the feeling that no matter where we are in our lineup somebody is going to get the job done,” he said. Lawson said the game was a perfect example of how his team has come together. “Their (Concordia) kid threw a heck of a game, but so did Tanner and our guys hung in there and took advantage of our opportunity to win it,” he said. “Individually, we may not stand out, but the sum of our parts is special.” If West Platte wins today, it will play the Hartville vs. Crane winner in a Class 2 semifinal at 4 p.m. June 2 at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon. The title game is set for 1 p.m. June 3; the third place game will be played 10:30 a.m. June 3.