With two on and one out, Justin Mitchell strode to the plate in a pivotal position.
Park Hill South coach Josh Walker opted to go after Platte County’s senior all-state
catcher — a decision that led to catastrophic results for the Panthers. Mitchell blasted an 0-2 curveball over the left-center field wall to plate the first three runs in a Class 5 District 16 semifinal Monday, May 15 at Platte County High School.
With senior designated hitter Drew Parmeley on deck, Mitchell didn’t know what to expect when he went to the plate after being intentionally walked on a 3-2 count in the first inning. He ended up having the chance to strike the biggest blow in top-seeded Platte County’s 5-1 win over the Panthers.
“I was in the mindset that I was going to take whatever they were going to give me,” said Mitchell, who went 2-for-3 with four RBIs to lead Platte County to its first district win since 2013. “If they were going to walk me, I had full trust in Drew that he could do the same thing.”
Platte County seniors Jared Wilson (3 2/3 innings), Grant Carver (1 1/3 innings) and Blake Conner (2 innings) combined on the victory.
Park Hill South (12-17) didn’t score until the seventh inning and were unable to advance to the district title game for a fourth consecutive season. Mitchell added to the Pirates’ lead with an RBI single in the fourth, and senior first baseman Austin Gammill came home with the final run on a collision at the plate after junior Max Hunter dropped in a single to center field in the fifth.
Platte County’s massive senior class of 13 players won a postseason game for the first time, advancing to the Class 5 District 16 championship against Staley. The game was scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17 at Platte County High School.
“It’s a pretty good feeling,” Mitchell said, “just because it’s our first district win for the seniors. At least we got one before we graduated. We have a really good team this year so it’s fun. We’re really relaxed.”
Platte County coach Rob Davenport’s unique strategy for handling pitchers paid huge dividends.
With a new rule mandating days off at certain pitch counts, Wilson again started and allowed just one hit and a hit by pitch. A double play in the third erased the second runner, and he retired the first two batters he faced in the fourth.
Carver came on and recorded a strikeout and then worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth.
Davenport opted to go to Conner, who has seen an increased role since No. 2 pitcher Colton Horn was lost for the season to a shoulder injury last month. Playing at shortstop and in the outfield depending on who is on the mound, Conner now also serves as “the closer” in the Pirates’ three-man No. 1 option.
“This is the scenario we wanted to see,” Davenport said. “We worked hard as a pitching staff to be in this position, and we’re just hoping no one else catches on.”
The defense came up big for Platte County again in the sixth after a leadoff single for Park Hill South’s Malik Stevenson.
After a fielder’s choice that was nearly a double play, Ryan Hagen’s ground ball resulted in a 6-3 double play Wilson turned after moving to shortstop when he left the mound. Conner struck out the first batter in the seventh before Billy Eggers, Stephen Personelli and Jackson Dixon strung together three consecutive singles for the Panthers’ lone run.
The defense recorded the final two outs, bringing an end to a solid day that included a handful of solid plays from Hunter at third base to thwart Park Hill South’s limited opportunities early.
“I think (the defense) was pretty normal, quite frankly,” Davenport said. “But yeah, we got some big outs at big times. We want our pitchers to get ground balls and fly balls, and we’ll get them out of there.”
Brougham stranded two runners in scoring position in the bottom of the first before a quick second inning that included two of his six strikeouts.
Park Hill South’s trouble in the third started with a single for Wilson before junior outfielder Kobe Cummings — the leadoff hitter — reached on an error with Stevenson rushing trying to get a forceout at second base. Ryan Frazier moved both runners up with a sacrifice bunt, bringing Mitchell to the plate.
Walker didn’t intend to walk the four-year starter and Major League Baseball project.
“Parmeley had just lined out to second and walking Mitchell gives us zero chance for error,” he said. “The pitch he hit was 6 to 8 inches off the plate. He put a good swing on it. Any other ball park it is either a sac fly or a double.”
Mitchell waited back on the curveball and hit his seventh home run of the season. His bases-loaded single the next inning gave him a team-high 36 RBIs on the season, but Parmeley popped out to second with the bases-loaded to keep Platte County’s lead at 4-0.
Gammill walked to start the fifth and moved to third on senior Dillon Doll’s blooped double that dropped into centerfield. On Hunter’s single, Gammill had to hold before coming home into a collision with Dixon at the plate.
Park Hill South left two runners on base in the seventh but never brought the tying run to the plate. The Panthers’ seniors that were a part of three straight district runner-up finishes included third baseman Jake Kline, centerfielder Andrew Aswegan, pitcher Jake Evans and pitcher/shortstop Hagen.
“They will all be missed,” Walker said. “Each one of those kids came up very big against Park Hill on Saturday (in a semifinal win). When I look back on this team, that is the game I will remember the most. We have to get some of these other kids to step up next year.
“I love these young men. I wish them nothing but the best.”
Winners of 11 straight, Platte County (22-2) earned a rematch with second-seeded Staley — the district’s winner each of the past four seasons.
The two teams first met on Tuesday, May 2 with Staley erasing a late deficit to force extra innings before Mitchell’s two-run home run in the top of the eighth provided a 7-5 win for the Pirates. Conner gave up the tying runs in the seventh, but with the pitch counts in order, Davenport should have all options available in the district title game with a good chance Conner could be on the mound again in a pivotal moment.
“Honestly, I’m eager to have that situation,” Conner said. “I want that again. Last outing, I want to redeem myself. I want to prove to them that won’t happen again. I have full confidence that we’ll beat them again.”