Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — The Jays’ goal was a district championship. For the second straight year, the Bruins got in the way.
The Jefferson City baseball team totaled seven hits in the first three innings Tuesday in hopes of claiming the Class 5 District 9 Tournament title at Hickman. Those baserunners, however, translated to just one score, and at the end of the game it was defending state champion Rock Bridge dumping the Gatorade cooler and taking souvenir handfuls of pitching-mound dirt to commemorate a 7-1 win.
“We’re happy to get here again,” Jays coach Brian Ash said. “Obviously, the goal is to win it, not to finish second.”
The Jays fell 5-0 to Rock Bridge in last year’s district title game and lost 10-2 to the Bruins two weeks ago at Vivion Field. Jefferson City looked poised to take charge Tuesday early. Jake Pridgin and Grant Wood began the game with back-to-back singles, and Adam Grunden sacrificed them into scoring position. Seven pitches later, however, Bruin starter Logan Twehous was out of the jam.
The Jays began the second inning with a single as well, when Bryce Beckley drove a 2-2 pitch to left. Logan Schmitz singled to right-center, and Gerrit Shirts was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Twehous induced two grounders to escape unscathed.
In the third, Bret Jaegers poked Jefferson City’s only extra-base hit of the game, a double to left, and Beckley fisted an RBI single up the middle. Gaven Strobel singled two pitches later, but the Jays left two more hitters on, stranding seven runners — five in scoring position — through the first three frames.
“You get a three-run cushion or a two-run cushion, maybe things are a little bit different,” Ash said. “But we didn’t.”
The Jays’ 1-0 lead didn’t last long. The Bruins plated three runs on four hits and a walk in the bottom of the third to jump ahead.
Rock Bridge wouldn’t go another inning without scoring, plating two in the fourth, one in the fifth and one in the sixth. Designated hitter Cole Evans whipped a line-drive home run to left field in the fifth, knocking Weirich from the game. The sophomore southpaw went four-plus innings, allowing six earned runs on seven hits and three walks.
“Obviously, that’s not the Jacob we’ve seen all year,” Ash said of Weirich, who pitched a perfect game against Helias, “but the moment sometimes gets a little big. You’ve got to understand he’s just a sophomore, too, so he’s going to learn from it. He’s going to get better.”
Jaegers allowed just one hit — a triple that came home on a groundout — in three innings of relief, walking none.
Though they weren’t able to capitalize, the Jays matched Rock Bridge with eight hits apiece. Twehous was pulled after three innings, allowing seven of those hits on 66 pitches. The senior also started against Jefferson City when the teams met on May 5.
“When you see him as much as we did, we knew he wasn’t going to fool us,” Ash said. “The goal was to knock him out of the game, and we did. He’s a good competitor, but we see guys like him all the time.”
The Jays weren’t able to take advantage once Twehous moved to third base. Reliever Nick Wohlbold, who traded positions with Twehous, allowed just one hit, a single that was nullified by a double-play, in his four innings of work.
The loss ends Jefferson City’s season one win short of 20 wins — a mark they had reached the previous two seasons. Ash was happy with the 19-12 mark. A winning record is a secondary goal, though, to that of a district championship.
“You’ve got to work harder. That’s the bottom line,” Ash said. “That’s something that we told our younger kids: If you’re going to get back here and beat these guys or win this district, you’ve got to just put in the work. We do, but obviously, we’ve got to work harder, because what we’re doing right now isn’t enough. So now you’ve got to push and push and push until you finally get over the hump.”
Among those younger players, Weirich will be a key contributor.
“We’ve got to have four or five guys like that,” Ash said. “And that’s what we’re going to be searching for in the offseason and in the next year to come.”
Rock Bridge, which defeated Francis Howell in the 2014 state championship, hosts Waynesville on Tuesday.
“I think they’ll be the favorite in their next two games, and then once you get to the Final Four, anything can happen,” Ash said of the Bruins. “Baseball and high school sports, it can be cruel at times. Obviously, we kind of found that out today, but I’m sure they’re expected to win it, because they are defending state champs, and as long as you’re defending state champs, you’re expected to win it.”