By Matt Turer — email@example.com
Jefferson City, Mo. — With irritating depth and picturesque efficiency on the mound, Jefferson City kept coming, and for the second time in a week, the Jays knocked off one of southwest Missouri’s best.
Kickapoo (20-10) managed just four hits off Jays ace Jacob Weirich Thursday night in Jefferson City, pushing two runs across in the fourth inning but allowing four in each of the third and sixth innings in an 8-2 loss to put an end to their season in the Class 5 quarterfinals.
For five innings, the Chiefs hung around while starter Matt Auer battled on the mound against MaxPreps’ No. 17 team in the country.
Jefferson City (29-2), who knocked off Willard in Tuesday’s sectional round, managed just three hits and a walk off Auer in 4.1 innings, but three hit batsmen and a three-run Kade Franks home run in a four-run fourth inning still proved too much.
“I thought he went out and he competed,” Kickapoo head coach Jason Howser said of Auer. “They’re a tough team to pitch to. You have to hit locations and if you miss they’re gonna hurt you probably more than your average high school team.”
Auer kept Jeff City’s offense scoreless in the first, second, third and fifth innings. He was relieved with one out in the fifth by Michael Barnes, who stranded the two Jeff City runners he inherited.
“[Auer] has a lot of competitive fire and juice in him,” Howser said. “We thought his fastball would keep them at bay a little bit. He did a good job. Especially just a sophomore going against that caliber of team.”
Auer called the Jays by far the best team he’s seen in his young high school career.
“They can hit any pitch I throw and they just have a lot of good hitters,” Auer said.
“I pitched pretty good, but I left a few balls up and they hit it pretty well. If I could take those back I would.”
Kickapoo pushed two runs across in the fourth inning when Andrew Kauffman hit a two-RBI single through the right side, scoring Charles Kelley and Zachery Salyers. But that would be all the offense the Chiefs would manage off Weirich, who struck out seven over seven innings, allowing four hits and a walk.
Kelley reached base twice for Kickapoo and made two big defensive plays in the first three innings in left field, including a diving grab at the warning track in the second inning.
Kelley nearly robbed Franks of his fourth-inning home run as well, leaping at the wall and momentarily fooling even the Jeff City bench into believing the ball was caught.
“[Kelley] made some outstanding plays and he almost got that home run,” Howser said. “I asked him and he said it was about an inch from his glove when it went out.”
The Chiefs’ defense kept the score tight throughout much of Thursday’s quarterfinal, including a catch from Auer in center field early in the sixth inning. A few batters later, Grant Wood took Barnes deep to right for a three-run homer that put Jeff City up 8-2.
“Coming in we knew we needed to play perfect and we probably needed some help from them on their end,” Howser said.
Kickapoo graduates eight seniors, including Chandler Jones, Adam Link, Roberto Merced, Mason Hatch, Barnes, Kauffman, and Sean Cole.
“Very proud of our guys,” Howser said. “With what we graduated in 2016 we really didn’t know what we had because these young men have had to wait so long to play. They provided great leadership. They’re very good young men and they did a great job of leading not only on the field but off the field for us as well.”