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story.lead_photo.caption Wyatt Fischer of Jefferson City makes contact on a pitch during a Class 6 quarterfinal game against Republic at Vivion Field. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

The 2021 Jefferson City Jays weren't Jays yet when the 2017 Class 5 state championship was claimed for the program's first title since 1989.

They've followed in that team's footsteps and are a couple strides away from accomplishing the same feat.

"As we were growing up as kids we were all watching that 2017 team and we wanted to be just like them," Jays senior right fielder Nick Williams said. "And to be here now is crazy."

Jefferson City will play in its first state semifinal game since 2017 today when it takes on the Fort Zumwalt West Jaguars at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark. First pitch for the Class 6 semifinal is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Oddly enough, the last time the Jays and Jaguars met on the diamond was the 2017 title game, which the Jays walked off with in a 2-1 decision in eight innings on a bases-loaded hit by pitch.

That was the first Final four appearance for Fort Zumwalt West, which entered the game against top-ranked Jefferson City with a record of 24-15.

Jefferson City capped that 31-2 season with 21 consecutive victories.

The roles are reversed today, with Fort Zumwalt West (34-4) coming in with the No. 1 ranking by the Missouri Baseball Coaches Association and a 12-game winning streak.

The Jays sit at 22-13 with a five-game winning streak, four coming in the postseason.

"Everybody's good when you get that far," Williams said. "It's gonna come down to the fine aspects of the game in order to win it."

The first semifinal matches C.B.C. (23-10), which received votes in the final Class 6 rankings, and fifth-ranked Liberty (30-9). Game time is 4 p.m.

This is the ninth Final Four appearance for the Cadets, first since they won the Class 5 championship in 2015.

C.B.C. knocked out ninth-ranked Lindbergh 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

Liberty won the District 8 title with a 5-2 win against second-ranked Liberty North and reached its fifth Final Four with a 5-2 win against Raymore-Peculiar in the quarterfinals.

The Blue Jays haven't played in the Final Four since taking third place in Class 4 back in 2012.

"I think one of the biggest things you can do is just pretend like you've been there before," Jays senior center fielder and pitcher Wyatt Fischer said. "Act like it's just another game. Obviously the stage is bigger, but just taking it one step at a time and one game at a time and hopefully you can get on to the next game."

The last loss for Fort Zumwalt West came April 27, a 9-7 defeat at Timberland.

It's one of just two losses for senior pitcher Noah Hargraves, who enters the semifinals with a 9-2 record and an ERA of 1.87. He's recorded 75 strikeouts and 23 walks in 60 innings on the mound.

Jefferson City expects to face either Hargraves or senior Tanner Perry, who is 6-2 with a 0.97 ERA. He's struck out 70 and walked nine in 50 innings.

"Very hard throwing, good off-speed," Jefferson City coach Kyle Lasley said. "They just have a very good presence on the mound and they compete really well. We'll have to just keep the strikeouts down and just put balls in play."

Williams said they've worked on making contact on sliders this week.

"Just getting used to seeing the spin on the ball and being able to see that break," he said, "that late break on the outside corner."

The Jaguars allowed one run during the District 4 Tournament, but rallied from a 6-0 deficit to beat third-ranked Francis Howell 7-6 in the quarterfinals.

The Jays are familiar with coming from behind in the postseason, defeating Blue Springs South 6-5 in the District 5 Tournament title game after trailing 5-0 entering the seventh inning.

"When you come back on a team and you put up six runs and walk it off, I don't know how you don't build off that going into the Final Four," Fischer said.

Fischer is one of four Jays with at least 30 innings pitched this season. He's 6-1 with a 2.32 ERA, allowing 28 hits, striking out 29 and walking 24 in 32 innings.

"Taking just quality hacks at the plate, good defense, making sure my arm's healthy," Fischer said of his preparation for the Final Four.

Jacob Roettgen has emerged as the Jays' ace, closing out the district title game and throwing a complete-game two-hitter in a 1-0 win against Republic in the quarterfinals.

The senior left-hander is 6-3 with a 1.26 ERA 66 strikeouts and 18 walks in 44 innings.

Jefferson City junior Case Hager has thrown 50 innings, striking out 67, walking 17 and allowing eight earned runs for an ERA of 1.11. His record is 3-3.

"Districts is obviously big, quarterfinals is big, but this is kind of a different level," Lasley said. "There's a little bit more that goes into it, so just trying to keep these guys mentally focused."

Prior to the district championship game, Jefferson City had scored at least 11 runs in three straight games.

Leadoff batter Connor Earleywine has been reliable at the top of the lineup, batting .447 with 11 doubles, four triples, 22 RBI and 48 runs scored.

Right behind Earleywine in the lineup is senior shortstop Taylor Hopkins, who's batting .333 with 11 doubles, 22 RBI and 33 runs scored.

In the No. 3 spot, senior catcher Joe Hoerchler is hitting .289 with 31 RBI.

Out of the cleanup spot, Roettgen has provided hits in key moments to keep the season rolling along. He's batting .385 with 40 RBI.

"We've put out a pretty consistent lineup now for the last three games and I feel like those guys, I'm pretty confident in," Lasley said. "Since the offseason until now, those are also typically the nine guys that have worked the hardest."

The Jaguars boast a lineup with seven players batting better than .300.

Perry, who plays shortstop when he's not on the mound, leads off with a .418 average. Perry has collected 41 hits, including 11 doubles, 23 RBI, 23 walks and just 11 strikeouts.

Jaguars junior center fielder Daniel Wissler is batting .367 with 43 RBI from the No. 2 spot. He also leads the team with 23 steals.

"They'll try to speed us up and make us feel uncomfortable, but we've just got to make sure we're playing our game," Lasley said.

Mason Whiteside, a senior infielder, bats .356 with 30 RBI and 30 walks, while senior infielder Ryan Alagna hits .370 with 32 RBI.

The semifinal winners will meet in the championship game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The third-place game will lead up to the title game with a 4 p.m. start.

"These guys are just getting a great opportunity," Lasley said. "That's what it's all about is just making sure these kids are getting that experience and enjoying it."

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