Pilot Grove wins Class 1 District 9 title with 12-5 win over Prairie Home
The Pilot Grove Tigers baseball team punched its ticket to the sectional round of the state playoffs Thursday night in California by beating the Prairie Home Panthers 12-5 for the title in the Class 1 District 9 Tournament.
With its fourth district title in program history and first title since the 2017 season, first year coach Joe Vossler said he wasn’t surprised by the back and forth game against Prairie Home. “We just came out to win every inning that we could,” Vossler said. “We put up a great spot each and every inning and we had to earn every inning that we did get. I’m speechless, though. I mean, coming here two years ago, and not even being the baseball coach but getting here to have this opportunity with these boys is thrilling for them to deliver and me to be alongside them. We're still going to miss the class of 2020, that team might have had a shot to do it, too. We just have to keep doing it for each other.”
Pilot Grove, now 18-6 on the season, will play the winner of Concordia or Leeton in the sectional round of the state playoffs on Monday, May 24 in Pilot Grove.
The Tigers definitely did it for each other Thursday night. Playing the final game in a long line of games at California, which started at 8 p.m., Pilot Grove came out and dictated the temp from the start with one run in the bottom half of the first on a RBI-single to right by Bailey Quint.
Prairie Home also threatened in its first at bat after a two-out triple to right field by Dillon Alpers. But after great catch in right by Dade Christy to rob the Panthers of a possible extra base hit, Christy threw to second to get the runner out for the double play. Pilot Grove pitcher Levi Jeffries then got the next batter on a fly out to center to end the inning.
Prairie Home didn’t go quietly, though. Up until the five-run third inning by Pilot Grove, the Panthers led momentarily after plating two runs in the top half of the third on a two-RBI double to left center by Alpers. But like the first inning, Prairie Home squandered another great opportunity when a player was picked off to end the inning.
Needless to say, Prairie Home still led Pilot Grove 2-1 after 2 1/2 despite the two baserunning errors.
The last, however, proved to be costly as Pilot Grove broke the game wide open with five runs on just one hit to lead 5-2. Although the Panthers were still within striking distance down by three, the four walks and one hit batter in the inning was all the Tigers would need to keep the lead for good. Pilot Grove’s only hit in the inning came on a two-RBI single to left center by Hank Zeller.
Pilot Grove added another run in the fourth on one walk, one hit batter and a single by Quint to load the bases. Dalton Reuter then drove in the seventh run of the game with a fly out to center to extend the lead to 7-2.
Prairie Home got one of the runs back in the fifth on back to back singles by Blane Petsel and Dillon Alpers. However, in the bottom half of the inning, Pilot Grove answered with one run on a lead off double to right center by Hayden Krumm and a RBI-double to left by Jeffries to make it 8-3.
Meanwhile, in the sixth with the rain starting to come down a little more, Prairie Home took advantage of what Mother Nature had to offer by pushing across two more runs on one hit and three errors to cut the lead to three at 8-5. The Panthers scored both runs on errors-the first coming on a line drive dropped ball at second, and the second occurring on a bad throw over the first basemans head. Layne Brandes had the only hit in the inning with a single to right.
Unfortunately for Prairie Home, they never got any closer in the ball game as Pilot Grove broke the game wide open with four runs in the bottom half of the sixth on four straight hits, which included back to back singles by Reuter and Dylan Schupp, a two-RBI double to right by Krumm and a two-RBI single to left by Zeller.
Prairie Home coach Trever Huth said the team came out and played well early until about midway through the game and had one bad inning that kind of took the wind out of their sails. “We did fight back to keep the game close, but Pilot Grove kept plugging away and played a great game,” Huth said. “Hats off to them on the win and a good year.”
A total of seven players for Pilot Grove had hits in the game compared to just four for Prairie Home.
Vossler said he wants his team to go up to the plate thinking quality of bats the whole time. “We've got to have a different mindset with no strikes than we do with two strikes, so even with two strikes, we’re trying to still stay in our zone, but letting the ball travel a little bit and drive it to center or drive it to right. Do something productive with it.
“It’s also a matter of whether they were going to make mistakes, or we were going to put the pressure on them and deliver ourselves. In the five-run, third inning I think it was a combination of both, and just a matter of what's going to set the snowball rolling downhill and take advantage when we can.”
Jeffries picked up the win on the mound for Pilot Grove, while Hunter Shuffield took the loss for Prairie Home, who closed out the season at 10-8 overall. In 3 2/3 innings, Jeffries gave up two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out three. Bo Vinson then came in and pitched 3 1/3 innings for the save by giving up three runs on three hits with one strikeout.
For Prairie Home, Shuffield started the game and pitched 2 2/3 innings and allowed six runs on two hits and five walks while striking out three batters. Peyton Pitts then came in and pitched 2 1/3 innings in relief and issued two runs on four hits and one walk while striking out five. Then, to finish the game, Jason Burnett pitched one inning and yielded four runs on four hits with two strikeouts.
Pilot Grove also out-hit Prairie Home 10-7, with Krumm going 2-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs. Zeller also had two hits in the game with a single, double and four RBIs, while Quint added two singles and one RBI, Jeffries with one double and one RBI, Reuter with one single and one RBI, Luke Kollmeyer and Dylan Schupp each with one single and Vinson with one RBI.
For Prairie Home, Alpers went 3-for-4 with a single, double, triple and three RBIs. Blane Petsel added two singles, while Layne Brandes and Hunter Shuffield each had one single.
On the season, Huth said the team went through a lot with a tough schedule and the boys fought hard every game to stay in it and keep it close. “I would just like to thank all of our seniors for what they have done for the program this year and moving forward,” Huth said. “I wish the best of luck to them on wherever life takes them.”
On who Pilot Grove will play next in the playoffs, Vossler said anytime the Tigers get off the bus whether its in Pilot Grove, California or Versailles, they expect to win. “I've taken to calling this a roam game,” Vossler said. “It's part road, part home. We get on the bus and we roam around until we find a field we can play on.”