by Michael Smith
Grain Valley senior pitcher Joel Palecek had to hurry to get to the ball after Truman’s Toby Bingham hit a dribbler down the third-base line.
He quickly picked up the ball and fired it to first baseman Kaden Jeffries to get the final out of the sixth inning in a game in which he had only allowed one unearned run up until that point.
As Palecek walked toward the dugout he got hugs and high fives from his teammates. It was a moment the senior may never forget.
He pitched for the first time since his brother, Weston Covell, passed away on May 3. Through all the emotions and grief, Palecek gave up only five hits and struck out four in a 11-1 mercy-rule victory in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Patriots Monday at Truman High School. Grain Valley won Game 1 6-1 earlier in the day.
“Being with my teammates takes my mind off of it,” Palecek said. “I relied on God to get through it and prayed. Being on the mound, I just focused on the game.”
Palecek took a few days away from baseball to mourn the loss of his brother, and had the full support of his team as it went to Covell’s celebration of life last Saturday.
“These guys are like family to me,” Palecek said. “I love them all so much. They have been there for me whenever I needed them. I love them and the coaches.”
Grain Valley head coach reciprocated those same feelings toward Palecek.
“He’s a strong kid,” Driskell said. “We’re in a situation in this world where people are dealing with a lot of stuff. I think sometimes we got kids like Joel who never ceased to impress me with stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with baseball. We coach because we want to impact kids.”
“We don’t necessarily think about the kids impacting us back. Joel has done that. He’s impacted this team. HIs teammates love him and he loves them back. That’s why this group is as close-knit as it is.”
And when Driskell told the team that Palecek was coming back to pitch on Monday, the Eagles got fired up.
“Whenever I told the team that Joel was coming back (to play on Monday), you would have thought I told them I was going to give them $100. They were ecstatic. I am a huge fan of Joel Palecek.”
Palecek, through all the emotions, kept the Patriots off balance. The only unearned run he gave up was in the top of the fourth inning on an RBI groundout from Toby Bingham.
He got plenty of help from left fielder Keagan Hart who made a couple of diving catches. He saved two runs from scoring as he laid out to make a diving catch in left center field on a line drive from Bingham when Truman had runners at the corners in the second inning.
He also made a similar catch on a line drive hit by Kane Braxton down the left-field line in the fourth when Truman had a runner on second and two outs.
“He’s saved my life a few times,” Palecek said. “That was awesome.”
Added Hart: “I made a couple of those this year. It’s not something you see every day. They are always fun to me. Having the experience of reading it off the bat helps.”
The Eagles got three runs in the bottom of the third when Jeffries had a two-run single that he drilled off the center field fence. Nick Hooper used a safety squeeze bunt to score Jace Weems from third to make it 3-0.
Grain Valley blew it open with a six-run fifth, which included RBI singles from catcher Brody Baker and right fielder Jake Allen. Hart also had a two-run, opposite field hit in the inning.
The Eagles went into the sixth up 9-1 and ended it on a mercy rule when shortstop Brek Sloan drew a bases-loaded walk and a ground ball from Allen bounced off the glove of Truman third baseman Anthony Locke.
“I think we played a whole complete game,” Hart said. “We were able to play as a team and played clean baseball. We made them make plays by putting the ball in play and we played well in the field.”
Grain Valley senior pitcher Joel Palecek, right, gave up only one unearned run in six innings as he pitched for the first time since his brother Weston passed away on May 3. His teammate Keagan Hart helped him with two diving catches in a 11-1 mercy-rule victory against Truman Monday at Truman High School. Photo credit: Michael Smith