After just three pitches, Platte County’s dream season seemed to be teetering on the brink. With just four more pitches, Pirates senior starter Jared Wilson navigated out of a mess without allowing a run.
Platte County came right back to scratch across one run in the bottom of the first, senior catcher Justin Mitchell belted a second inning grand slam and senior first baseman Austin Gammill provided the walkoff single in a 10-0 five-inning win over Staley in the Class 5 District 16 title game Wednesday, May 17 at Platte County High School. The senior class of 13 ended up earning the first playoff berth for the program since 2006 when the Pirates were still in Class 3.
The complexion of the entire matchup shifted in the quick but eventful first inning.
“The pitch count was ridiculous with what happened there,” Platte County coach Rob Davenport said. “That was a blessing — no doubt. The biggest blessing was we got out of it without a run because the game looked like it could be over before it started.
“And then that momentum boost was big in this game.”
Wilson ended up only allowing one hit in a shutout effort, and it came on the first pitch.
Staley’s Rod Criss II sneaked a groundball down the third base line for a double, and John Raybourn followed with a sacrifice bunt attempt, advancing the runner and reaching safely when the umpires ruled Platte County senior second baseman Dillon Doll failed to keep his foot on the bag while taking the throw from Wilson at first. Wilson then hit Michael Burdick with the next pitch to load the bases.
In the first pitch of his at bat, Staley catcher Amos Healy hit a sharp groundball to junior third baseman Max Hunter, who threw home. Mitchell took the throw for the forceout, pivoted and completed the double play at first with a solid throw.
On an 0-2 count, Braedyn McLaughlin hit a sharp ground ball to the right side, and Gammill dove to his right, made the stop and tossed to Wilson covering for the final out.
“They came out swinging,” Wilson said. “But I have that great defense. Every game I go out, I know they’re going to make plays. It just worked out. Unreal.”
Staley didn’t have another hit, and despite three walks, Wilson stayed on to pitch all five innings.
All season, Davenport used a strategy of limiting pitch counts to avoid mandated rest days, but with the Class 5 sectional matchup against Liberty North scheduled for six days later, he opted to stretch his senior ace out. Wilson needed just 30 pitches to get through three innings, and after hitting his normal limit while walking back-to-back batters in the fourth, the bullpen remained ready but unused.
Wilson struck out the final batter of the fourth and then worked a quick 1-2-3 top of the fifth with Platte County up 9-0.
“I’m always comfortable with the ball out there, especially in big games,” Wilson said. “I’m glad they left me out there, no doubt.”
Platte County ended up scoring in all five innings, and Staley — the four-time defending District 16 champion — cycled through four pitchers in an effort to contain the damage.
After Wilson’s miraculous escape in the top of the first, Platte County junior center fielder Kobe Cummings worked a leadoff walk and went to second on Ryan Frazier’s sacrifice bunt. Platte County went up 1-0 when Drew Parmeley’s groundball to shortstop didn’t result in an out, the Falcons’ defense unable to forceout Mitchell at second.
Seven batters came to the plate, but Platte County stranded the bases loaded.
The second started with Hunter’s single, and Wilson reached on an error to bring up the top of the lineup. Cummings executed a sacrifice bunt, and Frazier, who struck out looking three times in a semifinal win over Park Hill South, came up in a key spot.
The senior left fielder drew a seven-pitch walk to bring Mitchell to the plate.
Staley starter McLaughlin got ahead 1-2 but ended up surrendering Mitchell’s eighth home run of the year on the fifth pitch of the at-bat. Mitchell, who also homered in the win over Park Hill South, crushed the offering out to centerfield and then rounded the bases after putting the Pirates ahead 5-0 with his tongue wagging out of his mouth.
Mitchell hit a two-run home run in extra innings to beat Staley two weeks earlier, earning Platte County the district’s top seed.
“What a huge at-bat by Ryan Frazier to walk to force them to pitch to Mitchell,” Davenport said. “To Justin’s credit, Justin’s being patient and making them throw him a pitch.”
In the third, Wilson hit his first home run of the season with a no-doubt shot to left to increase Platte County’s lead to 6-0.
“It felt really good,” Wilson said. “It’s one of those things where if you hit the ball right, you don’t feel it. The wind kept pushing it, and when that ball landed over the fence, it was a good feeling for sure.”
In the next half inning, Wilson rewarded Davenport’s faith with his strikeout to strand two more runners.
Platte County came up with three in the bottom of the fourth and nearly invoked the run rule at that point. Frazier and Mitchell walked, and the Pirates loaded the bases when Staley’s catcher mishandled Parmeley’s bunt attempt.
Mason Majors, Staley’s third pitcher, then hit Gammill to bring in a run after the fourth and final batter he faced. Ethan Esdohr and Doll followed with run-scoring sacrifice flies, but the victory celebration would have to wait until at least the bottom of the fifth with Mitchell due up third.
Cummings walked, and after a strikeout, Staley coach David Wilson opted to intentionally walk Mitchell. Parmeley nearly ended the game, but center fielder Austin Keast ran down a deep fly ball to center for the second out, giving the Falcons a chance to extend the game.
Instead, Gammill dumped a single into shallow left field to plate the winning run — another example of Parmeley and Gammill making teams pay after pitching around Mitchell.
“We’ve been doing that all season,” said Gammill, who also hit a walkoff home run earlier in the season in a win over Smithville. “Justin’s always coming up in clutch situations, but whenever coaches are afraid to pitch to Justin, I think everyone is confident in us to do the job.”
After the hit, Gammill calmly took off his batting gloves before teammates mobbed him on the infield. Platte County senior Grant Carver and sophomore Glen Gammill dumped a bucket of ice and water on an unsuspecting Davenport.
After the chaos subsided, Platte County’s players pushed Colton Horn forward to accept the championship plaque. Horn’s season ended with a torn labrum suffered sliding into third base in the Pirates’ dramatic win over Smithville.
Since that time, Horn has remained a presence in the dugout while only making a bit appearance in on defense in center field in a senior night win over Grandview.
“It just meant a lot to let have think or know that I’m still a part of it even if I didn’t play,” said Horn, the Pirates’ No. 2 pitcher the past two seasons and the 2016 Suburban Conference Blue Division player of the year. “I thought some of the key players were going to get it, but I appreciate it.”
Winners of 12 straight, Platte County enters Tuesday’s sectional matchup — slated to start at 5 p.m. in Liberty, Mo. — winners of 12 straight. The last loss came to the same Liberty North hosting the Pirates in the first round of the playoffs.
Averaging more than 7 ½ runs per game, Platte County only had two hits in the loss.