Bobcats' big sticks held in check by Eagles' fireballer
It was the ultimate test staged to answer the age-old question in baseball -- does great pitching beat great hitting?
On this day, the answer was yes it does, as Plato's Craig Penley threw a whale of a game, keeping the deadly sluggers of Thayer in check to help the Eagles knock off the Bobcats 4-1 in the semifinals of the Class 1 State Tournament June 1 at Taylor Stadium on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia.
Penley, coming into the showdown with Thayer, sported an 8-2 record on the mound with an ERA under one run, while the top four hitters in the lineup for the Bobcats had been on a relentless tear this season, combining for 28 home runs, 132 hits and 132 runs-batted-in, numbers to give any pitcher the cold sweats.
But it was to be Penley's afternoon in the opening game of the Class 1 Final Four, with the senior right-hander holding Thayer's top of the order to three hits and just one RBI in six innings of work in which he struck out 10 and walked four.
Plato finished up its championship run the next afternoon by slipping past Archie 1-0 for the Class 1 championship.
"Penley was the best we've seen this season," said Bobcat Head Coach Matt Pitts. "Our hat is off to him. He pitched a heck of a game." Pitts, in his second season at his alma mater, had Thayer (22-5) in the semi-final round for the first time in school history.
Although he was a little banged up heading into the post-season, the Cats had their ace on the hill against Plato (22-4), Anthony Martin. The big senior fireballer posted a 7-3 record with 81 strikeouts entering the clash with the Eagles.
Martin gave up seven hits to Plato, while fanning five and walking two in six innings of work.
It looked like the Bobcats would be the first team to scratch the scoreboard as Martin (two-for-three, RBI) posted Thayer's first hit of the game by ripping a double to center on a full-count offering from Penley in the first inning. Martin took third on a wild pitch and later tried to steal home on a ball in the dirt, but was tagged out on a close play, leaving the Cats empty.
The Eagles did successfully use a steal of home to post their first run of the day in the bottom of the second. Thomas Vesely, standing on third, swiped home as Martin uncorked a pitch over the head of Thayer catcher John Tollenaar (hit), putting Plato on top 1-0 after two.
Tacking on three more runs in the bottom of the third, the Eagles made sure this lead stood up.
Vesely drove a pitch to the wall in right-center that scored two, and Kris Irwin sent a pitch up the middle of the box that brought Vesley home, giving Plato a 4-0 advantage.
Brad Harper got on board with a hit to right in the visitors' half of the fourth, but the Cats could just not come up with a timely hit when they needed it most, leaving seven men stranded on base for the game.
Thayer posted its lone run in the top of the fifth when Martin drove in Eric Veatch with a hot shot past third that made it Plato 4, Thayer 1, after five.
Eric Williams smacked a ball to the wall in left that was good for a double in the top of the sixth, but this turned out to be Thayer's last hit of the day, with Plato advancing to its first championship game appearance with a three-run win over Thayer.