By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
There was one number on the scoreboard at Phil Welch Stadium Wednesday night that was never illuminated.
It was the number of hits by the opponent.
"I think it was because (Platte County) had none," Lafayette senior pitcher Brayden Luikart said. "But, I didn't know early on. I just knew I wanted to attack hitters and keep them off balance at all times."
Luikart's hunch was correct. The left-hander and Oklahoma commit fanned 13 batters in a no-hit, complete game shutout, propelling the Irish (10-3) to a 5-0 win over Platte County in a Pony Express Tournament semifinal.
Lafayette faces Smithville (9-5) in the tournament championship at 4:30 Thursday. While many teams may start their ace for a championship game, the Irish wanted to ensure that they got to the big stage.
"You lead with your ace at that point," Lafayette head coach Matt Jansen said. "Just to make sure you're in the big one at the end."
The Pirates (11-3) came in on a four-game winning streak, having only lost to Park Hill South (9-4) and Smithville previously.
"We knew Platte County would be a good opponent," Luikart said. "We prepped all week for this game. We try to take it one game at a time, but we always had Platte County in the back of our minds. They're a good opponent, so we knew we wanted to jump on them early and get their starter (pitcher) out of the game, and we did just that."
After a scoreless game through two innings, the Irish got two runners on base to lead off the third, thanks to an error and intentional walk.
An RBI double by senior Jayden Little, an RBI groundout by junior Kobe Jones and an RBI single by senior Chance Herie put Lafayette ahead 3-0 after three innings.
In the fifth inning, Platte County junior and 2022 college prospect Landon Fulk was pulled and replaced on the mound by senior Jackson McMahan.
With junior Xavion Page on base already with a leadoff single, the Irish brought home two more runs in the fifth inning, thanks to a pair of walks and four wild pitches.
Lafayette scratched across five runs on just five hits. They benefitted from seven walks, four wild pitches, two passed balls, two hit batters, two stolen bases and an error.
"We were able to capitalize on some passed balls and play a little small ball," Jansen said. "Jayden Little and Xavion Page really came through in the middle of our order, too."
Platte County managed seven total base runners Wednesday, but only had multiple runners on in one inning. Luikart struck out the side in the top of the seventh to polish off a special night.
"Early on, I wasn't feeling great," Luikart admitted. "Off-speed wasn't working as well as it had in previous starts. In the fourth and fifth inning, it really started to click. I started landing those pitches for strikes, and everything came after that."
Once Luikart found his groove, Lafayette had built enough of a lead to feel confident that the senior ace could finish the job.
"He's a true pro as a high schooler," Jansen said of Luikart. "Once we had a few runs, we felt like we were in a good position. He's our ace. He's our guy. We trust him. I'm super proud of him and happy for him and his family that he was able to have that memory today against a really good Platte County team."
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