By Cody Thorn
Photos courtesy of Ron and Lisa Rigdon, Cheap Seats Photo
OZARK — Jack Lemasters wanted to make sure the game was decided by him, not anyone else.
The Liberty North left fielder drew a walk on a 3-1 count to force in the winning run in the 10th inning as the Eagles defeated Francis Howell, 4-3, in the Class 6 semifinals Friday at U.S. Baseball Park.
That ended a streak of five-plus innings where neither team was able to capitalize on baserunners. Lemasters was officially 0-for-3 at the plate, but his RBI on the bases-full walk vaulted Liberty North (32-9) into the title game for the first time in school history.
“I was looking for anything in the zone and (Howell's pitcher) wasn’t anywhere close,” Lemasters said of the pitch. “I was really confident when I walked up to the plate that I would do something big to help out the team.
"All I had to do was put the ball in play or get on base.”
This marked the third straight walk-off win for the Eagles, who beat Liberty and Ray-Pec to reach Ozark.
The final inning started with the No. 1-ranked Eagles getting an infield single from Jackson Downing, who moved to second base on the play thanks to a throwing error. Landon McGinness singled to put runners on the corners.
Howell (31-10) then intentionally walked catcher Bo Jonas, an Oklahoma commit.
That brought up Lemasters, who coaxed the walk to end what was the first-ever extra inning game in Class 6 - though that classification is only two years old.
In the seventh, both teams had a runner on second base but neither scored. Then in extra innings, both squads had chances to break a 3-3 tie, but each came up short.
Howell hit into a double play in the eighth inning and in the ninth inning, had a runner erased on a pickoff at first base.
Liberty North had the potential game-winning run thrown out at home in the bottom of the ninth inning on a laser throw by Leo Humbert, a freshman, with one out on the board.
“We had three or four bad base running mistakes, but the plays their guys made to extend the game (were impressive),” Liberty North coach Ryan Stegall said. “A perfect throw from the left fielder; diving plays from second base and the shortstop made a couple in the hole. That is a great team over there.”
In the top of the 10th, Howell got one-out singles from Donald McCutcheon and Brysen Nepute before a pop up fell behind first base, but Liberty North got a force out at second base.
With runners on the corners with two outs, a ground ball allowed Liberty North pitcher Ty Wisdom to escape the jam.
That set the stage for Liberty North’s walkoff win – the fifth straight overall victory.
Liberty North went up 1-0 in the first inning on an RBI double by Arkansas commit Tate McGuire.
Humbert tripled to open the second and scored on Brady Hultman’s sac fly. The Vikings took a 3-1 lead on Donald McCutcheon’s two-RBI home run in the third inning, which landed over the right field fence.
“We got back to where we are pretty comfortable being down two or three (runs); then we fought like hell to get back in it,” said Stegall, a seventh-round pick by the Houston Astros in the 2001 draft out of Missouri.
Pinch-hitter Jeffery Cisneros hit a two-run single in the bottom of the fourth to drive in the tying runs for Liberty North, getting the game squared away again.
Wisdom earned the win for the Eagles on the mound, picking up one strikeout and allowing four hits during the final four innings.
“Ty never goes more than two or three innings and we rolled the dice,” Stegall said of the Kansas commit. “He refused to lose. … He is the ultimate competitor.”
Downing pitched three innings in relief, coming in for starter Aaron Lewis after Howell scored its third run. Downing finished with one strikeout while allowing just one hit.
Blue Springs South 2, Lindbergh 0
A pair of future Southeastern Conference pitchers locked into a duel that ended with a combined 18 strikeouts in the first semifinal game on Friday morning.
Missouri-bound Trenton Roehler went 6 1/3 innings to pick up the win for the Jaguars, striking out seven and giving up two hits. John Chambers got the final two outs in the bottom of the seventh to keep the Flyers at bay.
The win vaults the Jaguars into the championship game for the first time in school history - after taking third in both 2014 and 2018. According to the Missouri State High School Activities Association's online record database, this is the first time two Kansas City-area schools have faced off for the championship in the state’s largest classification, dating back to 1950.
Blue Springs South (26-10) scored single runs in the third and fifth innings to account for the offense in the game. Missouri signee Jordan Austin drew a two-out walk and scored on Diego Rodriguez’s double in the third.
In the fifth, Austin provided the RBI on a single to score Liam Bryan, who had a one-out single. The Jaguars got six hits off Tennessee commit Dane Bjorn, a junior left-hander who struck out 11 in the losing effort.
Austin made a diving play in the left-center field gap in the sixth inning, with a runner on, to keep the Flyers (19-16) off the board.
The St. Louis school still had a chance in the bottom of the seventh.
Drew Politte reached on an error on a dropped fly ball to left field, ending up at second base. A ground ball moved him to third base and led to the pitching change.
William Stockmann drew a walk on a full count and was replaced by a pinch runner.
The Jaguars got out No. 2 when catcher Cole Chace, an Indiana State pledge, threw out the runner trying to take second base. The runner at third didn’t attempt to run home on the play, though.
On another full count, Chambers got a fly ball to right field to end it.
The Flyers were trying to reach the state championship game for the third time in school history after taking second in Class AA in 1977 and second in Class 4A in 1981.