By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Kolton Giefer will regret not getting a strike to swing at in his final plate appearance in a Springfield Kickapoo uniform.
Giefer walked to load the bases with one out in the seventh inning Thursday. But that was as far as the Chiefs’ comeback bid would get, as Columbia Hickman held on for a 4-2 Class 5 Quarterfinal triumph at Neil Pittman Field.
Kickapoo (24-11) fell one win short of State.
Kewpies closer Bennett Patton left the bases full by ending the night with a pair of strikeouts.
Giefer was left wondering what might have been had he seen a strike earlier in the count against Patton. Kickapoo’s hottest hitter in the post-season, the senior third baseman took three balls, watched a waist-high strike go by him and then took ball four outside.
“I had the take sign at 3-0 and that pitch was right down the middle,” said Giefer, who was 2-for-2 with a pair of walks. “I would have loved to try to put a swing on it.
“I also would have liked to seen an inside strike or that ball that I saw on 3-0, instead of ball four.”
For the record, Hickman coach Mason Gershon reported he did not instruct Patton to intentionally unintentionally walk Giefer.
“Sometimes you get lucky and the game takes over,” Mershon said. “1-9 they’re a very good hitting team. But we might have got a little lucky there.”
Kickapoo produced a modest total of nine hits this week against Carthage and Hickman. Giefer, who also had two hits and an RBI versus Carthage, had four of the Chiefs’ nine hits. He drove in a run with a triple in the first inning and singled in the third against Hickman.
“He was in hit mode tonight, that’s for sure,” Kickapoo coach Jason Howser. “(With runners on first and second and one out in the seventh), we wanted to push the tying run to second base and I had full confidence in Quin (Reasoner) behind Kolton. I was wanting to give him that opportunity
“We got the bases loaded with one out and had two chances at it, but couldn’t find the right time to pull the trigger.”
Patton and Hickman starting pitcher Kyle Brown, a sophomore, combined for nine strikeouts. Patton fanned four in 1.2 innings.
The Chiefs repeatedly whiffed with runners in scoring position. They stranded 10 baserunners. They had their leadoff man reach bases in three of the final four innings, but didn’t convert.
“We stranded a small reservation on the bases,” Howser said. “We couldn’t get the timely hit. You’ve got to credit their guys. They pitched extremely well.”
“They pitched out of trouble really well,” Giefer added.
Kickapoo starting hurler Mason Auer also thrived under pressure. The Kewpies stranded the bases loaded in the first, third and fourth innings.
Trouble was Auer’s pitch count quickly ballooned. He was already at 70 to start the fourth. He reached 106 with two outs in the fifth and per Missouri State High Schools Athletic Association rules, was relieved.
When Auer left the mound, the teams were tied at 2.
“It was tough for me to come out,” he said.
Auer, who struck out nine, walked five and hit a batter, struggled to find the home plate umpire’s strike zone.
“It was kind of all over the place,” Auer said. “I (adjusted to it) a little bit, but could have done better.”
“His last inning was his best inning,” Howser said. “He threw a lot of pitches. He kept competing and kept his composure. He kept us in it.”
Hickman’s Cameron Chick, who singled and scored while hitting left-handed in the first, broke the 2-all tie by homering to start the sixth while batting right-handed versus Chiefs lefty reliever Zach Kellogg.
Chick, who also scored the Kewpies’ winning run at Rolla on Tuesday, is a Nebraska commit.
“His home run was huge,” Mershon said. “He’s had a great year for us defensively and offensively.”
The Kewpies added an unearned run in the seventh.
Hickman (22-8) joins DeSmet (21-7), Vianney (25-2) and Blue Springs South (26-10) at State.
It was a tough loss to take for the Chiefs, who beat Hickman 4-3 in regular-season play.
“To be this close and with Mason starting this game, we all thought we were going to get to State,” Giefer said. “It didn’t work out the way we wanted.”
Auer will be among the few Chiefs returning next season.
“We’ll lose quite a few of our starters,” Auer said. “We’ll have to find out what works.”
Hickman 020 001 1 – 4 6 1
Kickapoo 101 000 0 – 2 6 2
WP – Brown. LP – Kellogg. Save – Patton. HR – Chick.