by John Unrein
One week into the baseball season and the Grain Valley Eagles find themselves with a 4-1 record. Timely hitting by Cole Keller, strong pitching from Alex Snyder and Joel Palecek, and a key sacrifice bunt by Cole Arndorfer propelled the Eagles to a 5-2 victory over the Park Hill Trojans on March 24th.
Overcast skies and a chilly 48 degree temperature did not halt Grain Valley from staying hot out of the gate during their 2021 season. The Eagles win was the second time they had defeated the Trojans in Pool B play of the Kansas City Metro High School Leadoff Tournament within the span of four days.
Alex Snyder used fastball command and a breaking ball that nipped the outside edge of the plate to hold down the Trojan offense through the first three innings. The sophomore gave up two earned runs and rang up three strikeouts prior to exiting in the top of the fourth inning after taking a sharply hit ball off the shin. Snyder tried to continue on the mound with a few warmup pitches to no avail as Eagles head baseball coach Brian Driskell believed it best for Snyder’s day to be done.
Joel Palecek would come on in relief of Snyder during the top of the fourth inning. Palecek was summoned cold off the bench and needed the warmup pitches to find his correct stride length with the front foot in his delivery. Once the appropriate distance was found with his lead left foot by the sophomore, he was able to keep his fastball down in the zone and hitters off balance with his secondary offerings.
Palecek would go on to pitch two and two-third scoreless innings in relief, racking up two strikeouts before yielding to Keller in the bottom of the seventh for the save. Keller’s day would be highlighted by stellar play in all three phases of the game. The senior would make a great running grab in left field during the second inning to compliment his save in the final frame.
Keller’s biggest contribution of the day would come at the plate though. A three for three afternoon that included a grand slam and four runs batted in left everyone with a smile in the Grain Valley dugout. Both Palecek and Keller explained why this win was important to them.
“I felt confident on the mound. My first few warmup pitches were a little wild and that had me nervous. I was determined though to do my job. My fastball command was there due to the finish in my delivery. This start to the season by our team feels great,” Palecek said.
Keller added, “My approach at the plate is to stay calm and loose. I try to attack the right side with my swing and adjust upon seeing the pitch. That works at any level of baseball.”
“I wanted the ball on the bump (the mound) the whole game, but I knew we needed to let my teammates throw successfully, and they did. I was happy to get called upon in the seventh, especially against those guys (Park Hill) and the successful reputation they have. It was great to compete and close out the game.”
Keller’s swing was swift and level all three times he made contact at the plate. His shot that cleared the bases in the third inning was a no doubter over the centerfield fence at the Creekside Baseball Complex in Parkville. A feat that is even more eventful when you consider that Keller has not played high school baseball for almost twenty two months, with his last stint being on the diamond during the 2019 baseball season.
The icing on the cake for the Eagles was laid down (pun intended) by pinch hitter Cole Arndorfer in the bottom of the sixth inning. The senior would apply a sacrifice bunt that hugged the first base line in staying fair and brought Keller home from third base. The proper execution by Arndorfer extended Grain Valley’s lead by three runs to what would end up being the final score of 5-2. Driskell’s faith in Arndorfer was rewarded and led to a boisterous Eagles dugout.
It is not hard to notice how much Driskell is enjoying baseball again. The Eagles skipper has chosen Twitter as a way to remember those who did not get to have a 2020 high school baseball season. The sentiment expressed is how difficult it was to not watch last year’s seniors get to compete and how much Driskell misses that group of individuals. Something that leaves Driskell soaking up each win this season that much more.
“I am not sure that I have seen a kid put a team on his back in baseball the way that (Cole) Keller does. It is so rare in baseball as you can only affect the game every ninth time you are at the plate offensively. He is a big difference maker. Keller being a three sport athlete is immense as he is in pressure situations all the time and they do not rattle him. It is apparent in his leadership and the way he rises to the challenge,” Driskell said.
“Arndorfer’s sacrifice bunt was a selfless act done by a selfless player. That starts with his parents and is a testament to the type of kids that are on this team. We talked about the possibility of that situation before the inning started and he (Arndorfer) assured me by saying ‘absolutely coach, whatever you need, I will get it done’ and he delivered. Equally as impressive was how well Arndorfer handled Keller then behind the plate in the seventh inning.”
Driskell continued, “Palecek did a nice job coming in with the circumstance he faced in a tight game. He has fought being nervous in practice and his first varsity outing. Today, he pitched confidently against a good team in Park Hill and held down a two run lead. His facial expression never changes, and you can never tell whether he is calm or upset. His teammates were equally as impressed.”
Grain Valley will next travel north to face the Liberty Blue Jays on March 27th.