by Michael Smith
Last season, Grain Valley's Jace Weems was a pinch runner for a team that made it to the Class 5 state championship game.
That proved to be an invaluable experience for him, even while playing a specialized role for the Eagles. This season, he is the leadoff hitter and starting center fielder for Grain Valley and he’s grown into his new role nicely.
What was on display in Grain Valley’s Suburban White Conference game Tuesday at Raytown High School as he went 3-for-4 at the plate with a triple, three runs scored and five runs-batted-in during a 23-4 mercy-rule win in five innings.
“He’s doing an outstanding job defensively and running the bases, he’s a game changer,” Grain Valley head coach Brian Driskell said of Weems. “He’s a great guy to have at the top of the lineup.”
Weems’ two-run triple on a line drive to right field highlighted an eight-run inning for the Eagles in the second. He also drew a bases-loaded walk in an eight-run fifth inning.
“With the spot I was in last year, it made me more comfortable,” Weems said. “I have seen it. I got to go to state last year.”
“I definitely had to adjust to the change of speed compared to their tournament we had this last weekend. I was just thinking opposite field and just find a way on base.”
The whole lineup hit well against the Blue Jays as seven out of 10 hitters had at least one hit. In their last eight games, including this one against Raytown, the Eagles have averaged 11 runs per game.
Since its 1-5 start, Grain Valley (13-8, 3-0 White Conference) has won 12 out of its last 15 games and are exceeding the expectations of its head coach.
“They have definitely played above where I thought they would be at this point,” Driskell said. “We still have a lot of things we are really loose with. If we were playing someone else, it might have had a big impact.”
The Eagles had to adjust to Raytown starting pitcher Jaydon Williams, who was throwing pitches around 50-59 mph. During the weekend’s Columbia Tournament, Grain Valley was facing pitchers who threw in the 80s and 90s.
Grain Valley scored one run in the first, eight in the second, two in the third, four in the fourth and eight in the fifth. Senior first baseman Kaden Jeffries was 1-for-3, with two runs scored and four RBIs; senior third baseman Nick Hooper was 2-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBIs; sophomore Brody Baker was 4-for-4 with an RBI; and sophomore Brek Sloan was 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI.
Meanwhile, Hayden Hermon got his first career varsity start on the mound as he surrendered on just one run in four innings and struck out four.
“My fastball was feeling good,” Herman said. “I just stuck with that and it worked. I mixed in a few curve balls.”
Grain Valley junior Jace Weems, left, had three hits and five RBIs and Hayden Hermon was the winning pitcher, only allowing one run in four innings during a 23-4 mercy-rule victory in five innings over Raytown Monday. Photo credit: Michael Smith