Two games, two pitching gems, but only one victory.
Blue Springs Rod’s Sports manager Mike Rooney has seen that scenario before, as he chuckles and says, “Welcome to the Wood Bat Invitational.”
A’s rookie Kalib Martin, who will be a junior at Blue Springs High School this fall, fired a five-hit shutout to blank Pyramid Roofing of Omaha, Neb., Wednesday morning at Grain Valley High School to lead Rod’s to a convincing 6-0 victory in the first game of the 30th annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational.
The A’s Jake Lufft then threw no-hit ball for six innings, but Elsberry (Mo.) Post 226 strung three hits together in a two-run third inning to claim a 2-1 victory in the second Pool B game.
“Kalib threw a great game, he just got some offensive support,” Rooney said. “Jake threw a great game, too, and we outhit them 7-3, but baseball is a game of inches. And a couple of times, if we hit the ball just a few inches one way or another, we win that game.”
One instance came in the top of the sixth inning in the game against Elsberry when the hottest hitter in Eastern Jackson County, Anthony Gunn, ripped his second double of the game and his fourth hit on the afternoon.
He advanced to third on Jackson Caley’s sharp single to right field.
CJ July then hit a smash to third base that seemed to be headed to left field. But John Hogan snagged the ball and Gunn ended up in rundown. He was tagged out going back to the bag at third base.
“I was going on contact, because our third base coach said, ‘Go on anything but a ball hit right at the third baseman,’” said Gunn, who is hitting above the .600 mark on the season and was 4-for-6 Wednesday in the two games. “When C.J. hit the ball, I thought it was a base hit. I thought the ball was going to get past their third baseman, but he made a nice play and I got tagged out. I really wanted to score that tying run because Jake was throwing a great game.
“It’s a game of inches – if that ball is an inch over the third baseman’s glove we’re still playing.”
Lufft, who allowed three hits and had six strikeouts, was disappointed in the outcome, but not with his performance.
“I did all I could to help us win the game,” Lufft said after the A’s dropped to 21-4 overall and 1-1 in pool play. “We’re a good team, a really good team, and we had our chances. We got that first win today and that was big. We’re all right, we’ll come back. We all know we’re going to come back and win some games.”
Elsberry’s Tyler Turnbull opened the bottom of the third inning with a four-pitch walk and went to second on Robert Roggeman’s single.
Turnbull then scored on a single by Joe Martin, and Hogan drove home Martin with the game-winning run with the third hit of the inning.
“You can’t open an inning with a walk,” Rooney said. “It always comes back to hurt you. And Jake would tell you the same thing. The kid threw a great game and the guys played well enough to win – and it was our second game of the day.
“They’re young, they can play two games in this heat. It didn’t affect me, I was in the dugout in the shade.”
Martin was thrilled with his performance in the first game.
“I was going to pitch the championship game in the Nebraska tournament we just got back from,” Martin said, referring to the Michael Peterson Tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska, in which the A’s went 3-2 but lost in the semifinals. “But we didn’t make it to the championship game, so Coach Rooney gave me the ball today.”
Martin opened with a 1-2-3 first inning and the A’s gave him a 3-0 lead in the second to help him pitch with even more confidence.
“I was really happy with my first inning, then the guys scored three runs and I felt even more confident,” Martin said. “It’s great to help your team start the tournament 1-0.”
Zane Barr had two hits and three RBIs in the first game, and Lufft, July and Gunn each had two hits to support Martin’s five-hit, one-strikeout shutout.