By Jim Connell
Kickapoo High School’s baseball team had a simple game plan going into Tuesday afternoon’s Class 5 state sectional game against Webb City.
Get the first lead.
It took the Chiefs five batters to do that, and the result was a wire-to-wire 5-0 victory over the Cardinals, and a spot in the quarterfinal round on Thursday.
Kickapoo (20-9) will play Jefferson City (28-2), a 6-3 winner over Willard on Tuesday, in Thursday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinals. The winner of that game moves on to the state semifinals on June 2 in O’Fallon.
Once the Chiefs got the lead on Tuesday, it all fell into the hands of senior right-handed pitcher Adam Link.
Link took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, allowed only five baserunners and finished with a three-hit shutout.
“We thought if we had a chance to get a one- or two-run cushion, we would be feeling pretty good about ourselves,” Kickapoo coach Jason Howser said. “We executed on all ends of it, and that was nice to see.”
Link needed only 84 pitches – 59 of them strikes – to finish off the complete game. He struck out eight, with a big breaking curveball keeping Webb City off-balance the entire game.
Five of the strikeouts were called strikes, and the Cardinals were frustrated the entire way. One of the Webb City players was ejected after balking at one of the called strike threes.
“He has a great mound presence, and never really lets things get to him, and he just attacked the zone with all of his pitches,” Howser said.
“If you can do that at the high school level and throw four pitches for strikes in any count, for high school hitters, that’s a lot to digest and try to make adjustments to.”
Link was backed by an offense that scored two runs in the top of the first inning – Kickapoo was the host team but was the visitors after losing the pregame coin flip – and three more in the fifth.
“Anytime we can get the lead early, it takes a lot of the weight off of my back and lets me settle into the game, and just go out and attack the zone,” Link said.
In the first, Robbie Merced led off the game with a single, then Zac Salyers singled one hitter later. Both scored when Chandler Jones reached on an error.
In the fifth, Merced again singled to start the inning. Trey Kelley reached on one of Webb City’s three errors in the inning and Salyers’ sacrifice bunt try ended up being an infield single.
Jones reached base on a play where two errors were made and two runs scored, and Kolton Giefer put down a perfectly executed squeeze bunt to make it a 5-0 game.
That was all the ammunition Link – and his defense – needed.
The Chiefs finished with one error, but more importantly, made several sparkling plays in the field. Three of those were on ground balls hit into the hole and gathered up by the shortstop Merced.
“He showed why he’s a Missouri State signee today,” Howser said. “He’s very good, it was nice to see him relaxed and play the game on the defensive end.”
Kelley made a nice running catch of a fly ball into right field that helped preserve the shutout, and a 4-6-3 double play that started on a ground ball to Quin Reasoner ended a two-on, one-out threat in Webb City’s fifth inning.
“Anytime they put the ball in play and you can rely on the guys behind you to make a play, it’s a good feeling,” Link said.