In the final game of his career, Justin Mitchell never saw a single pitch.
Lee’s Summit junior Joseph Vandenbos issued Platte County’s senior catcher three intentional walks in a Class 5 quarterfinal matchup Thursday, May 25, a strategy that finally slowed down the Pirates’ red-hot offense. The Tigers held on for a 1-0 win at Platte County High School, ending the season for perhaps the best team in Platte County’s history.
Mitchell entered with extra-base hits in each of the three previous postseason games, including a pair of home runs, but he could have little effect against Lee’s Summit.
“It’s not how I pictured it, but I can’t really do anything about it. It’s out of my control,” said Mitchell, who led Platte County in nearly every offensive category including home runs (eight), RBIs (40), runs (36), average (.480) and on-base percentage (.621). “It just sucks I couldn’t help the team in any way. We were playing really well together as a team. It was fun.
“You can’t really complain about anything. It’s a 1-0 game. It could’ve gone either way.”
Platte County (24-3) held opponents to two runs or fewer in the final 10 games of the season, but one run allowed on six hits and a walk was enough to end the Pirates’ first playoff run since 2006.
Lee’s Summit allowed six baserunners — singles for seniors Drew Parmeley and Jared Wilson, the three walks to Mitchell and a hit batter. Vandenbos picked two of the runners off first base, and the Pirates only threatened to score once.
Vandenbos’ intentional walk to Mitchell was the only runner he allowed in the final four innings.
The best chance to score came in the first inning after Mitchell walked with two outs. Parmeley followed with his single, and Vandenbos then hit Pirates senior first baseman Austin Gammill with a pitch to load the bases.
Ethan Esdohr, Platte County’s sophomore right fielder, grounded out to end the threat, and Vandenbos’ off-speed pitch selection baffled the Pirates the rest of the way.
“They were smart,” Platte County coach Rob Davenport said. “I think they picked a pitcher they knew we would have struggles with, and we did. We didn’t make adjustments. Normally, we can count on our bats. You expect to win those games, but today wasn’t our day.”
Wilson, Platte County’s ace, started and didn’t face a pitch limit with the next round of the playoffs scheduled for this week. He retired the first nine batters in a row on just 30 pitches but didn’t end up making it out of the fifth inning.
In the fourth, Lee’s Summit loaded the bases, but Wilson struck out Jason Kostelnick looking to keep the game scoreless.
Three of the Tigers’ six hits came in the top of the fifth, starting with a single for Spencer Parker. After a sacrifice bunt, No. 9 hitter Quinton Carlberg singled to right field, but despite a bobble from sophomore Ethan Esdohr on the grounder, the runner didn’t score.
Grant Baird followed with a single to drive in what turned out to be the only run of the game.
Platte County didn’t have another threatening inning after going behind 1-0. Mitchell came up with two outs in the sixth and went to first on the intentional walk, and Parmeley followed with a groundout to the pitcher.
Vandenbos induced Gammill to pop out on the eighth pitch of his at-bat to start the seventh, and Esdohr grounded out to shortstop two pitches later. Dillon Doll, another senior, ended the game with a popout to right field.
Doll trudged back to the dugout as Lee’s Summit celebrated its state semifinal berth on the infield.
The ending seemed surreal for a Platte County corps that grew up over the past four years.
Prior to a Class 5 District 16 semifinal win over Park Hill South, the Pirates’ 13 seniors had not won a postseason game in their careers despite winning records in 2015 and 2016.
Platte County most recently made the playoffs while still in Class 3 back in 2006, and the Pirates’ only other state semifinal appearance came on the way to a Class 3A state title in 2002.
“That group of guys that won that state championship, there were some really good baseball players in there,” Davenport said. “That was a really good team for a couple of years, but these guys are right there with them.”
Still, the large senior group left its legacy as one of the best ever, and all 13 players had a role on this team.
Wilson, Grant Carver and Blake Conner finished the year as Davenport’s preferred No. 1 option to use while limiting pitch counts to skirt mandatory off days for rest. Mitchell, Parmeley and Gammill formed the potent middle of the lineup, while Doll moved back to his natural position of second base.
Ryan Frazier and Carter Nugent spent time starting in the outfield due to injuries — first with Frazier missing time and then in wake of a season-ending torn labrum for senior Colton Horn, the 2016 Suburban Conference Blue Division player of the year as an outfielder and pitcher.
Cody Minyard took up a position as bullpen catcher, while Nick Rhude and John Termini were deep options on a pitching staff that Davenport stretched in the face of new pitch limit rules.
All three losses this season came to Class 5 playoff teams. Two of them featured uncharacteristically off days for a balanced offense that averaged 7.4 runs per game.
“Phenomenal season,” Davenport said. “The loss hurts not because we’re not going to state, not because it’s a loss. The loss hurts because it’s the last day I get to spend with a what’s been a great group of young men.”