Facing the top-ranked team in the state can be intimidating. But for Kapaun Mt. Carmel, that No. 1 team happened to be its bitter rival Bishop Carroll, and the Crusaders were not about to be bullied.
Jumping on the Golden Eagles for 7 runs in the first two innings and getting a brilliant performance on the mound from Ben Lippold to close the game, Kapaun held off Carroll in a 10-9 upset win.
“We talked about coming out and starting strong,” said Kapaun head coach Steve Lienhard. “We haven’t been doing that since the year has gone on, so I wanted to really focus on getting out of the gate well. Carroll is a good hitting ball club, and they’re going to score runs. If you can just not let them break your will or break your confidence, you can stay in the game with them.”
The Crusaders stormed out of the gate, picking up 3 runs in the first, 2 on a 2-RBI triple from Tyler Jennings and another when Luke Heeren drove in Jennings. All 3 runs came on a rally that started with two out and no one on base.
In the second inning, Kapaun kept pouring it on. Thomas Meitzner drove in a run with an RBI single to start the ball rolling. And just as in the first, Kapaun did a ton of damage with two outs.
Tate Anderson plated a pair with two outs to give the Crusaders an early 6-0 lead, and Jennings picked up his third two-out RBI to put Kapaun up 7-0 after two.
“We wanted to come out strong,” said Meitzner, “but we knew Carroll—they are going to smash. They are going to smash and you can’t do anything about it. They are going to hit the ball.”
In the bottom of the second, as anticipated, the Carroll offense came alive, making a game out of it. Jalen Hernandez started things off blasting an RBI double to put the Golden Eagles on the board. Tanner Palmore drilled a 2-RBI triple in the inning and Carroll picked up a fourth run on a sacrifice bunt from Denton Howell.
With new life in the Carroll dugout, the Eagles stayed after it with another 4-run inning in the third. Evan Koehler knocked in a run, setting up another Hernandez double, this one good for 2 RBIs. Howell picked up his second RBI with a double to erase a 7-0 Kapaun lead and give Carroll an 8-7 lead in the blink of an eye.
Kapaun took advantage of a 2-out Carroll error to tie the game at 8-8 in the fourth, setting the table for a race to the finish.
In the fifth, Kapaun got another clutch, 2-out hit, a 2-RBI double from Meitzner to give Kapaun a 10-8 lead.
A 2-run lead staring into the barrel of three more innings of Carroll hitting is uneasy at best. And with the game hanging in the balance, Lienhard tapped Lippold to do the seemingly impossible: hold Carroll to less than 2 runs in three innings.
“I saw their lineup,” said Lippold, “I mean, they’ve got Denton Howell, they’ve got John Armstrong. I play with those guys so I know what they are like. And when (Lienhard) told me to go warm up, I’m like, ‘Alright. It’s game time. I’m ready.’”
Carroll got the start to the fifth it wanted, with the first two hitters reaching base. But Lippold got some huge help from third baseman Max Hagan who caught a line drive right at him and through behind the lead runner at second to get a double play and hold the Golden Eagles scoreless.
In the sixth inning, things weren’t so dicey for Lippold. The Kapaun hurler struck out the side in order, giving the Crusaders a crucial boost going into the seventh.
“It was huge at the time because you don’t want them to ever get the momentum wheel going again,” said Lienhard. “With the three punch-outs, it is a little bit demoralizing for high school kids to see a guy come out and strike the side out.”
In the seventh inning, Lippold found himself in a little bit of trouble. A Hernandez sacrifice fly for an RBI cut the lead to 10-9, and the Golden Eagles had a runner at second with two outs. Refusing to buckle, Lippold got a fly ball to center to end the game.
“I had Zeke Palmer up, and I kind of embarrassed him a little bit, you might say, in his first at bat,” said Lippold. “So ok, he wants revenge. I’m not going to give it to him.”
The win keeps Kapaun in the running for a City League championship, at 5-1 in league games. The Crusaders will have a chance to take control with a doubleheader against undefeated Wichita East up next.
“You always like to beat your cross-town rival,” said Lienhard. “But we’ve got bigger goals set for this season. We want to finish high in the City League. This keeps us up there in the mix. As long as you keep yourself in the mix for championships, and City League titles, and regional championships and state championships, you’ve got a chance.”