Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Baseball Hornets Upset Top Seed, Reach District Final

Hang on for 7-4 win over Odessa Tuesday; will face Oak Grove for second-ever state berth Wednesday

As reported to C-T

RAYTOWN, Mo. — After surprisingly seizing the upper hand on top-seeded Odessa with a 4-runs top of the third inning and then seemingly taking a stranglehold on the Class 4 District 15 Tournament semifinal game at 7-1 with three insurance runs on Tucker Wagers’ bases-loaded double, the Chillicothe HS baseball Hornets were within one OHS swing of the bat of losing Tuesday before a comebacker to relief pitcher Brock Ward closed out a 7-4 CHS upset victory that has them potentially one win away from only the second district championship in the program’s quarter-century history.

Fifth-seeded Chillicothe (11-12) is scheduled to square off with third-seeded Oak Grove’s Panthers (11-10-1) today (Wednesday, May 19, 2021) at the Odessa Middle School field at 6 p.m. to determine the District 15 champion and host for the May 25 opening-round game of the Class 4 state tournament.

The Hornets will seek their first such appearance since 2005 in only their third district final ever. It will, however, be their second attempt at advancing to state in the past three seasons. They lost to St. Joseph: Lafayette in the title game in 2018.

Earning that opportunity required, first, relocation of Tuesday’s contest from the rain-sodden Odessa diamond to the all-artificial-turfed field at Raytown South High and, then, defeat of a club with a much better 16-5 record.

Playing as the visiting team, Chillicothe spotted Odessa a first-inning marker, then rocked the Bulldogs with a 4-runs third and never being caught, thanks first to the strong pitching of junior righthander Gage Leamer (5-3) and last to the one swing of T. Wagers’ bat that let them survive another shaky seventh inning.

Senior T. Wagers lit the fuse on the big third with a leadoff infield single. After walks to Mason Baxter and Brock Miller loaded the bases with none out, Ward’s hit to center tied the game.

Following a strikeout, Ga. Leamer gave himself a lead to try to safeguard with a 2-runs single to left which sent Ward on to third base. A passed ball after Wyatt Brandsgaard’s walk reloaded the bases improved the Chillicothe position to 4-1.

That is exactly where it stayed through the bottom of the third inning and on through the fourth, fifth and sixth.

Ga. Leamer stranded a runner in the OHS third, two in scoring position in the fourth by getting an inning-ending groundout to second sacker Miller, having a hitless fifth which included catcher Ward erasing a leadoff walk by throwing that man out stealing for the second out, and then getting his third and last strikeout of the contest to leave two on in the sixth.

When singles by Ga. Leamer and Max Wagers surrounded Brandsgaard’s hit by pitch to start the CHS seventh, the chance to purchase some insurance was presented. T. Wagers wagered it would be worth the investment.

After a fielder’s choice erased Ga. Leamer at the plate for the first out, T. Wagers pounded a double over the left fielder’s head that sent Brandsgaard jogging home from third, M. Wagers dashing there from second, and Griff Bonderer racing around from first. The 3-runs double ballooned Chillicothe’s lead to 7-1 with “only” three outs to get.

Having had their share of problems closing games out the second half of the season, even that now-6-runs bulge didn’t seem all that safe. Unfortunately, the Hornets again showed why.

Facing a do-or-die dilemma, Odessa drew hope from a leadoff 5-pitches walk from the understandably tiring CHS pitcher, who had thrown five solid innings with only 45 pitches in last Saturday’s first-round victory over Richmond.

Another 5-deliveries free pass immediately followed, ending the Chillicothe starting hurler’s mound stint after 99 pitches. On to throw came Ward with Gabe Hansen replacing Ga. Leamer in the lineup and handling the catching chores.

On a 3-2 pitch, the new Hornets righthander got a fly out to left field, but then handed out his own 5-pitches walk to load the bases.

A Chillicothe error put a second Odessa run of the game on the scoreboard and kept the sacks full, rather than producing a second out, but the relief pitcher seemed to shrug off the miscue behind him by getting groundout to second as OHS edged within 7-3.

After being even on the count to the next batter, Ward walked him, bringing the potential tying run to the batter’s box. While facing that man, the runner from third scored and a CHS error let the other two men advance to second and third.

With Chillicothe fans’ nerves fully on edge, a fifth walk of the hitless final half-inning was handed out, letting Odessa put the potential game-winning run at the plate, albeit in the person of the Bulldogs’ No. 8 batter who was hitless with two strikeouts in the game to that point.

Bucking up and buckling down, Ward got ahead on the count with two quick called strikes. After missing the zone with the next delivery, he forced a swing and a foul before inducing a ground ball back to the mound. He gloved it cleanly and threw to first baseman Landon Winder for the out that propelled the Hornets into the title game.

Statistically, Chillicothe’s bats shared the spotlight with Ga. Leamer’s impressive first six innings of pitching.

The Hornets swatted a dozen basehits, including T. Wagers’ huge double and a 2-bagger by Miller in the fourth. A hit by Ward followed Miller’s double, but Odessa threw Miller out at the plate on it.

Not only did Ga. Leamer allow only one run on seven hits and merely one walk in the first six frames, but he also was three for three with the bat, including the 2-runs single in the third.

The always-gritty T. Wagers joined him in having a multiple-hits, multi-RBI game, going two for four with three runs knocked in.

Each side had chances to do more scoring than they did, stranding 10 runners apiece.

Chillicothe dented the Odessa starting pitcher for four runs in 4-2/3 innings before adding the ultimately-decisive last three off a reliever.

The Hornets nearly sabotaged their cause by having four of the game’s five errors, but ultimately did enough things better to tip the scales their way.

When Chillicothe and Oak Grove square off, it will be a contest between teams with many statistical and won-lost similarities.

Not only are both within a game of .500 – CHS below and OGHS above, but Oak Grove averages scoring 7.1 runs a game and Chillicothe 6.7, while CHS surrenders on average 6.8 runs and the Panthers 5.7, according to statistics displayed on the Missouri State High School Activities Association website.

If that isn’t enough to suggest a toss-up contest, an examination of their results against common opponents underscores that probability.

Both have wins over Clinton and Richmond and losses to Midland Empire Conference champion Kansas City: St. Pius X. 

Chillicothe, however, now has a win over Odessa to its credit, a foe Oak Grove fell to 10-2, as well has having split with Savannah, while Oak Grove lost its only meeting with the Savages.

Chillicothe first-year head coach Joshua Lisle presumably will put senior righthander Baxter on the mound for Wednesday’s title contest. He’ll have his full legal complement of pitches available to him after having thrown most recently last Saturday.

Oak Grove’s pitching probably is in better position, depth-wise, since it did not have to play a quarterfinal-round game in the 5-teams tournament. The Panthers cruised through Excelsior Springs 9-2 on Tuesday.

Wednesday’s winner, as noted previously, will be the host team for the state tournament opener next week. The opposition will be the survivor of Thursday’s District 16 game between No. 1 seed St. Joseph: Lafayette and No. 2 Savannah.