There were times during the American Legion season that veteran manager Mike Rooney questioned the effort of his Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s.
Monday night was not one of those times.
Although the end result was not what Rooney wanted, he was happy with the way his team played in his final game at the helm of the A’s.
Blue Springs had an uphill battle going into its Zone 2 Tournament championship round against the Sedalia Post 642 Travelers. In a double elimination format, Rod’s Sports lost their second-round game against the Lee’s Summit Outlaws, forcing them to have to win five games in a row to advance to the state tournament.
Sedalia only had to win one game and the A’s had to win two to advance o state. The Travelers were well rested, having won three games in a row and being the only Zone 2 team that didn’t have to play Sunday.
To make matters more difficult for Blue Springs, three players were no longer on the team, including two regular starters. A gutsy effort from A’s pitcher Will Heller and the offense led to a 12-1 six-inning mercy-rule win in Game 1, but the A’s fell in the second game 8-3, ending their season at 34-8.
“We were shorthanded, so we had to use kids who were juniors,” Rooney said. “Two of them played on the Junior Legion Elks team and Kalib Martin was with us all year. They got some good experience and hopefully that will make them better for next year. The kids played their guts out after playing five games in three days.”
Added third baseman Anthony Gunn: “We didn’t have a catcher, we ran out of players. Our best pitcher was our catcher (Jake Lufft). And we were short on pitching. We played hard and that’s all that matters really.”
Heller put forth a great effort despite having a sore right arm. He tossed a complete game, going six innings and allowing just one run on four hits and struck out seven to help Blue Springs force a winner-take-all game in the nightcap.
“I was just trying to throw strikes honestly,” said Heller, who said he had a dead arm. “I knew if I threw strikes that the defense would back me up. I relied a lot on my curveball because I couldn’t throw my fastball with as much velocity as I normally could.”
Gunn led the offensive effort for the A’s in the first game, going 4-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. His RBI double to the right-center field gap helped Rod’s Sports take a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. His team then jumped ahead 5-0 in the second thanks to his RBI, seeing-eye single up the middle, an error and a bases-loaded walk from Dustin Brewer.
“I thought I did pretty well, but I didn’t expect to do this well since I didn’t play high school,” said Gunn, who hit well above .500 for the season. “The season didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but I worked hard and had a good season.”
The A’s tacked on two more in the third on an RBI single from Cade Bissell, who was called up from the A’s Junior Legion team, the Blue Springs Elks, and he later scored on a wild pitch for a 7-0 edge.
Sedalia scored in the bottom of the third, but Blue Springs triggered the mercy rule with two runs in the fourth and three in the fifth.
However, in Game 2, the A’s were short on pitching, having used most of their primary pitchers over the weekend. That led to Kalib Martin, who didn’t pitch a lot during the season, to start on the mound. Junior Legion players Matt Eisenreich and Tanner Martin chipped in to help finish the game in relief.
Sedalia scored four runs in the first and three in the second to jump start their momentum to a Zone 2 championship. The A’s scored one run in the first on an error in the outfield, one in the second Ray Paniagua’s RBI double and one in the seventh on a Gunn home run to right. But it wasn’t enough against a Sedalia team that put the A’s in a hole early.
“We were up in counts, we just couldn’t take advantage of it,” Heller said.
After the game, Rooney made sure to shake the hands of all of his players and pose for a picture with them, ending his lengthy career as the team’s manager.
“It was great to finish my career with these kids. They were wonderful,” Rooney said. “I am just going to be the GM (general manager) next year. I am going to see them and go watch other games and do other stuff. I’ve had a couple of people ask me to scout from them. I’ll have plenty to do.”
Over the weekend the A’s climbed out of the loser’s bracket to play Sedalia starting with a 10-0 mercy-rule win in five innings against Springfield Hillcrest Saturday. Colton Best pitched a three-hit shutout, walked two and struck out two for the win. Jake Lufft paced the offense with double and three RBIs and Christian Garcia had two RBIs.
The A’s then played rival Blue Springs Post 499 Fike in the next round and won 6-3. Rod’s Sports took a 6-0 lead in the first three innings. Fike fought back with two runs in the bottom of the third and one in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough and the A’s moved on. Lufft was the winning pitcher as he pitched five innings and allowed three runs on eight hits and fanned six. Brewer allowed just one hit and struck out three in two innings of relief.
Lufft also was 2-for-2 with an RBI, Heller was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and Paniagua was 2-for-5 with two runs.
For Fike, Luke Moehle was 2-for-4 with an RBI, Kyle Gaines was 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI and Will Fisher was 2-for-4.
The A’s then advanced to the loser’s bracket finals and avenged their loss earlier in the tournament to the Outlaws with a 7-5 victory despite committing eight errors.
The Outlaws took a 2-0 lead in the first, because of two A’s errors and a hit. The A’s scored two runs in the third to tie it and took the lead in the fourth on a Best RBI single. The Outlaws bounced back to take a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth that was aided by two more Rod’s Sports errors. But the A’s went back up 6-4 after scoring two in the fifth and one in the sixth and led the rest of the way.
CJ July pitched four innings and struck out four to get the win. Paniagua and Brewer led the offense with two hits apiece.
BLUE SPRINGS POST 499 FIKE; 7, ST. JOSEPH POST 11; 4: After falling to Sedalia in the second round, Fike bounced back for a win against St. Joseph to advance in the loser’s bracket.
Jackson Arnold got the win after tossed 4 1/3 innings and allowing two runs on four hits and striking out five. Ross Greco paced the offense by going 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI; Crichton Hill was 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI; and Koby Powell was 2-for-4 with a run.