Rock Bridge advances to Class 4 baseball semifinals

Thursday, May 28, 2009 | 10:45 p.m. CDT; updated 1:44 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 29, 2009
The Rock Bridge baseball team celebrates its 8-2 victory over Nixa on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Class 4 state tournament.

* Rock Bridge's Zach Kurzejeski's position was corrected to shortstop.

COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge baseball team got solid performances from their offense and pitching at home Thursday in an 8-2 victory over visiting Nixa in the quarterfinals of Class 4 tournament.  This marks the first time that Rock Bridge has advanced to the semifinals of the tournament.

Rock Bridge pitcher Clay Leible surrendered the only two runs of the game for Nixa on a sacrifice fly in the first inning, and off a ground ball error by Bruins shortstop Robert Degraaff in the fourth. For the second game in a row, freshman Ryan Phillips closed out the game, pitching three shutout innings despite hitting two batters and also earning five strikeouts.

Phillips said the Bruins' main goal at the beginning of the year was to win the district championship, but once they accomplished that they were more relaxed, which has helped them make it to the semifinals. The Bruins chanted at their teammates as they went up to hit to give their players encouragement.

“Our motto this season was ‘get some, get some,'” Phillips said. “No squad is as vocal as we are.”

Tim Ritter, an assistant coach for the Bruins, said their starting pitching performed well, and Phillips’ impressed him this season.  

“It’s impressive for a freshman to have that much poise,” Ritter said. “For someone that young to pitch without being under pressure is impressive.”

Rock Bridge got started in the first inning with a walk and a stolen base by DeGraaff followed by an RBI single from * shortstop Zach Kurzejeski and an RBI double from first baseman Todd Reller off Eagle’s starter Daniel Guier, which gave the Bruins an early 2-1 lead.

It was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth when Guier surrendered an RBI single to rightfielder Colby Gerau. Guier was lifted after pitching 3 1/3 innings and was replaced by Andrew Drum who gave up another run, making the score 4-2.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Bruins scored four more runs, which propelled them to an 8-2 lead. The Bruins had the bases loaded with one out when Jaide Rose hit a two-run double off Nixa pitcher Ben Van Gorp, which was a key hit providing Rock Bridge with the six-run lead.

Bruins head coach Justin Towe said he was surprised how far his team has advanced in the tournament.  He said the key to tournament victories was being relaxed and taking more aggressive swings at the plate, which he said his team sometimes did not do during the regular season. He also said advancing to the semifinals was uncharted territory for his team.

“The big thing is for the team to stay positive.” Towe said.  “We are not supported by playing with house money.”

Nixa coach Howard Greenwood said his pitchers were behind in the count the majority of the game and that Rock Bridge took advantage.  

“We made two base-running mistakes in the first inning, and from that point I knew we were not mentally in the game,” Greenwood said. “Rock Bridge made us pay.”

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