WESTON, Mo. — Much of West Platte’s existence in recent weeks consists of enduring ups and downs while attempting to establish a modified identity.
A season-ending wrist injury to star senior shortstop/pitcher Luke Horseman in a matchup with rival North Platte changed the complexion of the season for the Bluejays, seeking a fourth straight berth in the Class 2 playoffs. Almost every game provides a new learning experience which ended up the case Wednesday, May 4 in an 11-1 win in the rematch with North Platte.
West Platte used a first inning “Grant slam” and a 3-for-4 performance at the plate for freshman third baseman Gavin Davis, including the walkoff hit in the fifth inning, to pull the season sweep.
“Gavin just played himself into contention to do something,” West Platte coach Tanner Lawson said. “When you come in your first start and play like that, it’s going to be tough to sit him out.”
West Platte’s big win came a night after losing for the second time to Mid-Buchanan, but the Bluejays were 2-2 in their last four entering a Tuesday, May 10 game at Lawson. The result was not available at The Citizen’s deadline.
The Bluejays also went back out on the field with North Platte for the first time since a collision at first base with Bryntin Crockett ended Horseman’s season.
“Our first goal is to be competitive in all the games, and there’s been a few where we haven’t,” Lawson said. “We’re moving people around the last week and a half to try and find a lineup that works and give our younger guys some experience. This is probably by far the best game we’ve played this year, especially since not having Luke.”
“You just hope the best for Luke for his long-term goals and you keep fighting for these 18 guys that came out this year.”
Incidentally, Crockett started on the mound Wednesday, and with some help from the defense, North Platte made a mess of the bottom of the first inning. Crockett hit Connor McNair with a pitch to start the frame, and the Bluejays loaded the bases on an error and a walk to Jack Summers.
West Platte senior catcher Peyton Morris followed with a two-run double, and after a popout resulted in the first out, Crockett loaded the bases again by hitting Brett Shepardson with a pitch.
Grant Eagen, a sophomore, followed and dropped the bat head on a pitch to send a towering fly ball to left field. Eventually, the ball cleared the 10-foot high chain-link wall near the 275-foot mark for a grand slam and a 6-0 lead for the Bluejays.
“Off the bat, I just thought it was just a pop fly to left,” said Eagen, who hit his first career home run. “I wasn’t really sure, and then I looked, and he was at the fence. I don’t know. I was happy with the result.”
The 6-0 advantage looked huge with McKaulley Stephenson on the mound.
A four-year starter and already a two-time Missouri Baseball Coaches Association all-state pick, Stephenson continues in the role of ace, while Lawson tries to patch the rotation together behind him. Stephenson did give up a run in the top of the second on singles for Garrett Lamar and Halen Knapp followed by one of four Bluejays errors and Mark Fisher’s RBI groundout.
Starting with Fisher’s groundout, Stephenson allowed just one more runner on a walk to Fisher in addition to two more errors committed behind him.
“I don’t think pressure gets to Mack,” Lawson said. “He threw a really good game, had good stuff, but yeah, he’s the horse.”
West Platte took the run back in the bottom of the second on Morris’ second RBI double, although North Platte gunned him out at third trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
That started a string of three straight innings of creating a run out of a very limited opportunity. Shepardson reached in the third when Crockett lost an infield popup in the sun, and Kyle Tabaka plated West Platte’s eighth run on a hustling infield single hit to second base.
McNair created the run in the fourth with a walk against reliever Trevor Lamar, scoring on a pair of passed balls sandwiched around a sacrifice fly.
Lamar walked the bases loaded in the seventh with two outs, Eagen, Alec Carson and then McNair when the lineup turned over. That brought up Davis, who scored on both of Morris’ doubles earlier in the game.
A freshman who received limited playing time earlier in the year, Davis worked a 1-2 count full before dropping a single into shallow center field that easily scored Eagen and Carson with the runners going on the 3-2 pitch.
“We seem to have found ways to score runs, and I think we’ll be fine,” Eagen said.
North Platte’s loss started a three-game losing streak right after the Panthers beat Plattsburg to earn their third KCI Conference win of the year. They last reached that win total in league play back in 2009.
West Platte grabbed the No. 2 seed in Class 2 District 16 behind unbeaten Mid-Buchanan, while North Platte will be the No. 4, opening Saturday, May 14 against East Atchison in Weston, Mo. The winner advances to play the top-seeded Dragons.
With a bye in the first round, West Platte awaits the winner between Lone Jack and Kansas City Lutheran for a semifinal scheduled at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 16.
East Buchanan 6, West Platte 4
The Bluejays fell behind early and couldn’t quite come back in a loss Monday, May 9 in Weston, Mo.
With just three hits total, all singles, West Platte managed to score twice in the first after allowing two to the Bulldogs in the top half of the inning. East Buchanan came back with single runs in each of the next two innings to take the lead for good.
West Platte trailed 5-2 before scoring two more in the fifth.
All four runs for the Bluejays were unearned. McNair singled and scored in the first after Eagen followed by reaching on an error. Stephenson brought them both in with a two-run single.
Eagen also scored in the fifth after reaching on an error.
Lathrop 2, North Platte 0
The Panthers lost their third straight Monday, May 9 at Dean Park in Dearborn, Mo.
North Platte managed just four hits with Crockett going 2-for-3 with a double. Andrew Roberts threw a complete game and allowed only one earned run.
Lathrop put up single runs in the third and seventh.
North Platte’s record stood at 8-13 overall entering a regular season final against Northeast Nodaway scheduled for Tuesday, May 10. The result was not available at The Citizen’s deadline.
In KCI play, North Platte finished 3-9, its best record since 2009.
West Platte 8, Lathrop 6
Davis continued his hot hitting, going 2-for-4 with two runs on Thursday, May 5 in Lathrop, Mo.
West Platte scored six in the first inning with an RBI double for Morris, a two-run single for Kyle Tabaka and a two-run double for Mitch Moppin. The Bluejays added one in the second and one in the third to take an 8-1 lead but ended up needing to hold on.
Moppin earned the win, going four innings and allowing four runs on five hits and a walk.
Morris came on in relief and didn’t record an out in the fifth, giving up the final two runs.
Stephenson entered and didn’t allow a runner, striking out five in three innings for the save.
Mid-Buchanan 17, North Platte 0, 5 innings
Roberts collected both of the Panthers’ hits in a loss Thursday, May 5 in Faucett, Mo. Mid-Buchanan, the No. 1 seed in the Class 2 District 15 bracket, scored at least two in every inning against North Platte starter Halen Knapp.
Mid-Buchanan 16, West Platte 6, 6 innings
The Bluejays opted to try Shepardson against the KCI frontrunners Tuesday, May 3 and ended up with the same result as the first meeting.
Shepardson went four-plus innings in Weston, Mo. and allowed 13 runs, only six earned thanks to seven errors on West Platte. Wyatt Kleman, a freshman, threw the final two innings and ended up charged with the last three runs.
Mid-Buchanan scored in five of six innings with at least two in each of those frames.
West Platte trailed 9-0 before plating four in the bottom of the third on a pair of two-run doubles — one for McNair and one for Stephenson. The Bluejays cut the deficit to 13-6 with two more in the fifth, which included an RBI double for Jack Summers, but the Dragons responded with three in the sixth and closed out the 10-run-rule win.