Repeat Rally: Kennett overcomes two-run deficit in final inning, claims second straight district baseball title
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - For a second straight season the Kennett Indians entered the final inning of the Class 3, District 1, baseball championship trailing by two runs.
"We needed to relax and just play baseball the final inning," Kennett coach Aaron New said. "We were in the same spot last year. I told the guys before they batted 'you are not going to win this game if you don't believe you are going to win it.'"
Kennett's offense rallied in a must-score situation yet again, plating four runs on just three hits in the final inning on its way to a 6-4 district championship win against the state-ranked Notre Dame Bulldogs.
"We had been there before," Kennett No. 5 hitter Collin Smith said. "This team doesn't give up and we are not going to go down without a fight. In the state tournament we are not going down easy. A team is really going to have to get us good."
The trouble started for Notre Dame in the final frame when Kennett's DK Wallace reached base with a leadoff single in the top of the seventh. Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett went to the mound following Wallace's single and replaced his starting pitcher Justin Landewee with left-handed reliever Jon Lynch.
Lynch walked the first batter he faced - Daniel Lockhert - to put runners at first and second with one out.
Lynch then collected the first out of the inning by striking out Kennett's next hitter - Justin Smith.
Kennett's Logan Dollins followed Smith's at-bat by hammering an RBI-single to the outfield. The hit scored Wallace and Kennett's other two baserunners advanced to second and third when the ball skipped past a Notre Dame outfielder.
"We found ourselves in a bad spot in the seventh," Dollins said. "We had some hitters coming up. When Wallace got a hit and Daniel walked it looked like the rally was unfolding just like last year. I was just looking for something to hit hard and got the pitch I was looking for to pick up the RBI."
Graviett went to the mound again following Dollins' hit and made his second pitching change of the seventh inning. Ross James replaced Lynch on the mound. James intentionally walked Adam Grantham to load the bases with one out in the one-run game.
Kennett's Collin Smith followed Grantham's walk with a game-winning single that never reached the infield dirt. Smith's softly hit single rolled down the first base line without reaching the first base bag.
"It was a good pitch by Ross," Notre Dame catcher Chase Simmons said. "It was a little dribbler, and Lynch was coming and Ross. They didn't communicate, and Lynch had it in his glove. He was going to flip it to me, I could tell. Ross just ran right into him, kind of gave him a little whiplash and it just went from there."
Three Kennett runs scored following the collision between Notre Dame's pitcher and first baseman as the ball rolled toward the Bulldogs dugout. Smith was eventually thrown out at second on the play, but the damage was already done.
"All I was thinking was 'don't strikeout,'" Collin Smith said of the game-winning hit. "I wanted to put the ball in play and give our team a chance to score somehow. That's what happened. It wasn't a great hit. I wish I would have hit it to the outfield in a gap, but I'll take the result. Good things happened.
New added: "Their guy came in and put Collin in an 0-2 hole real quick. Collin stood in there and battled. He got the ball in play and sometimes in high school things happen when you put the ball in play. We caught a lucky break and capitalized on it."
James got Kennett's Kevonte Mitchell to fly out for the final out of the top of the seventh.
Kennett starting pitcher Grantham returned to the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning with an opportunity to earn a complete-game win following his team's offensive rally.
Notre Dame's Cody Heisserer reached base with a leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh in what proved to be the Bulldogs' final hit.
Grantham struck the Bulldogs' next two hitters out and got Notre Dame's Josh Haggerty to fly out to centerfield for the final out of the seventh.
"I knew my team got me the lead back and I had to go out there and shut it down," Grantham said.
Kennett took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Dollins drove home the Indians' first run on an infield fielder's choice after Justin Smith reached third with a one-out triple.
Simmons put Notre Dame on top 2-1 in the bottom of the third when he drove home two runs with a one-out RBI-single.
Kennett tied the game at two in the top of the fourth when Tyson Campbell drove home Mitchell from second base with a one-out RBI-single.
The Bulldogs went back on top in the bottom of the fourth when Lynch delivered at the plate with a two-RBI double.
Notre Dame never scored again off of Grantham after the fourth inning.
"My control wasn't there today," Grantham said. "It was a struggle all day, but I kept on battling through it and my teammates kept on picking me up."
Grantham was forced to pitch around two Kennett errors.
"He just gutted it up," New said of Grantham. "We didn't play real well behind him and he was in a position to be a hard-luck loser. Once he got the lead you could see it in his eye he was going to finish it off. That's what he did the last inning."
Mitchell finished the game 3 for 4 with three singles.
"I was just thinking 'hit the ball,'" Mitchell said. "I wanted to stay smooth in the batter's box and come through squared up without trying to swing for the fences. I was seeing mostly curveballs. I was going up there thinking fastball and adjusting to the curveball. You just have to see the spin and hit it.
New added: "A sophomore that is getting better every day. He's not even scratched the surface on how good he can be. That's two years in a row he's came through in a district championship. Last year he had a game-winning hit in the district championship and this year he has three hits. You cannot ask for anymore out of a sophomore."
Grantham collected a win on the mound, allowing seven hits and striking out five. Lynch took the loss. Lynch allowed two runs in 1/3 of an inning pitched and struck out one.
Landewee allowed three runs in six plus innings pitched. Kennett's first five hitters in the batting order were one for 14 with one walk in the first six innings against Landewee.
"I thought he did a tremendous job, and that's what kind of scared me, and I got him," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said. "He had held them in check for so long that you just wondered if he was going to be able to do it one more time. We had other options to go to and tried to pull the strings and probably should have left him in for a couple more hitters."
Kennett, which is ranked No. 3 in Class 3, improves its record to 23-3 with its second straight district championship victory.
"It shows this group is a special group," New said. "They kept believing and continued to play hard today. It keeps working out for us. We caught a break today, but in high school baseball sometimes you catch breaks. We took advantage of them and was able to get a great win."
Kennett will play Park Hills Central in the first round of the Class 3 state playoffs. Park Hills Central upset state-ranked Sullivan 4-2 in its district championship Wednesday. According to the MSHSAA website, Park Hills Central's record is 13-13 following its district championship win.
Kennett will play at Park Hills Central May 22. The time of the game has yet to be determined.
No. 2 Kennett 6, No. 1 Notre Dame 4
KHS 100 100 4 - 6
NDS 002 200 0 - 4
WP - Adam Grantham. LP - Jonathan Lynch. 3B - Justin Smith (K). 2B - Lynch (ND), Cody Heisserer (ND). Multiple hits - Kennett: Kevonte Mitchell 3-4; Notre Dame: Lynch 2-3, Griffin Siebert 2-3.