OZARK, Mo. -- The Missouri high school baseball Final Four may be held at Sky Bacon Stadium, but the road to the Class 1 state championship still runs through Highway 52 in Miller County.
The St. Elizabeth Hornets, playing in their fifth consecutive Final Four, successfully defended their state championship Tuesday afternoon. An abundance of hits and commanding pitching were the perfect combination for the Hornets, who dominated the Platte Valley Longhorns for a 13-3 victory in six innings.
St. Elizabeth, which started the season 1-5, won 22 of its final 24 games to claim the fifth state championship in program history, two shy of New Bloomfield’s all-time Missouri high school baseball record.
“Once things started clicking, it just became an unbelievable year,” St. Elizabeth coach Caleb Heckemeyer said. “It’s always fun when we’re winning and getting here, but when these guys had to face hard times, they fought through it.
“It’s been a blast, it’s been a fun year.”
St. Elizabeth, ranked No. 2 in Class 1 by the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association, finished the game with 15 hits. All nine starters contributed either a hit or an RBI to the cause.
“Credit to them, they knocked the ball all over,” Platte Valley coach Zach Dyer said.
But a 1-2-3 top of the first inning was not the start the St. Elizabeth offense was hoping to have.
“That first inning wasn’t what we expected,” Heckemeyer said. “… But then our middle of the lineup stepped up in the next inning and got things going.”
In the second inning, Gavin Williams drew a one-out walk, then Brady Kemna and Noah Chipman each singled to load the bases. The next batter, Levi Holtmeyer, hit a ground ball to the shortstop, who only had time to tag Kemna running to third base, allowing Williams to score to give the Hornets the lead.
In the bottom of the second, Platte Valley’s Brandon McQueen drew a leadoff walk and scored on Tucker Klamm’s two-out double into the left-center field gap, tying the game at 1.
Then, in the third inning, St. Elizabeth dinked single after single after single against Platte Valley pitcher Memphis Bliley, the same pitcher the Hornets faced in last season’s state semifinal game.
“A single is a hit, it gets the line going,” Heckemeyer said.
Eli Kemna opened the inning by bouncing a single up the middle, then Caleb Oligschlaeger lined a single down the right-field line to put runners on the corners.
Jace Kesel then broke the trend, smashing a double off the left-field wall to score Kemna and give St. Elizabeth the lead for good.
Williams, Brady Kemna and Chipman hit consecutive singles to score two more runs, then Blake Wobbe blooped a two-out single into center field to score a couple runs, making the score 6-1.
That was enough run support for Williams, who was making his second consecutive pitching appearance in a state title game for St. Elizabeth.
Following Klamm’s double, Williams retired seven of the next eight batters he faced, allowing just two hits through the first four innings.
“They were on the fastball early,” Williams said. “It was just being able to finally get it to work after the first few innings. I stopped babying it and really threw it like I was able to.”
Williams’ curveball also kept the Longhorns off-balanced, as he finished the game with six strikeouts.
“He was fun to watch,” Heckemeyer said.
In his next at-bat in the fourth, Kesel hit a deep fly ball to nearly the same spot off the left-field wall, but this time, the ball bounced hard toward the infield.
At first it looked like Kesel was going to have a standup triple, but Heckemeyer waved him home instead. Kesel beat the relay throw and slid home safely for an inside-the-park home run, his 12th home run of the season.
“I wasn’t moving very fast, but it happened fast,” Kesel said with a laugh. “I turned the corner and (coach) was telling me to go. I about slipped on third base, but it all worked out.”
Wobbe, who was batting from the No. 9 spot, drove in four of St. Elizabeth’s remaining six runs.
He dropped in an RBI single into left field in the fifth inning, then he smashed a bases-clearing triple to center field in the sixth. Wobbe finished 3-for-4 at the plate with six RBI after going 0-for-9 in his previous three Final Four games.
“I like it in the No. 9 hole,” Wobbe said. “I see a lot of fastballs, and I like to attack fastballs.”
Williams hit an RBI single and Chipman drew a bases-loaded walk earlier in the sixth, which widened St. Elizabeth’s lead to 13-2.
Williams returned to the mound for the bottom of the sixth. He got the first batter to ground out to third base, but he walked the next batter.
Although Williams still had 17 pitches remaining until his pitch-count limit, Heckemeyer opted to bring in Carter Otto to pitch and make his Final Four debut on the mound.
“If anybody was going to come in, I wanted it to be Carter,” said Williams, who closed last year’s state title game against Oran. “Last year, that was my moment. He’s been such a big part of our team, he’s been putting the work in all summer.”
Kesel threw out the runner trying to steal second base for the second out of the inning. The next three Platte Valley batters reached base, including an RBI triple from Trevor Weir, but Otto prevented the game from going to a seventh inning by getting a pop out to Wobbe at second base to end the game.
“I knew when we were getting close to the end, I wanted to make sure to get Carter Otto out there,” Heckemeyer said, “to give him a little more experience for next year.”
Williams allowed just four hits to go with three walks in 5⅓ innings, finishing the spring with a 5-4 record.
Bliley hit his pitch-count limit in the top of the sixth for Platte Valley. In five-plus innings, he gave up nine runs on 12 hits, but only two went for extra bases.
Chipman joined Wobbe with a three-hit game. Kesel, Williams and Brady Kemna each had two hits and Williams and Kesel each had two RBI.
Klamm had a pair of hits from the No. 9 spot for fifth-ranked Platte Valley, which ends the season with a 20-3 record.
The Hornets (23-7) have been in every baseball Final Four since 2018, finishing runner-up twice (2018 and 2021) to go with state titles in 2019, 2022 and 2023.
They outscored Class 1 opponents 96-9 in eight games this spring.
“This has been pretty fun,” said Heckemeyer, who became the 15th coach in Missouri baseball history to win three state titles. “These guys want to keep making sure that they’re able to compete and contend for a state title every year.”