WICHITA, Kan.—With a talented group of experienced seniors, eight deep, the sky was the limit for Wichita Northwest baseball coming into the season. Although, after an 0-3 start to the season, it may have appeared the Grizzlies were heading toward hibernation a little early this year.
But since that slow start, Northwest found its stride and started winning games. After an emotional sweep of Bishop Carroll, 3-2, 3-1, the Grizzlies have risen to, at the very least, a three-way tie for the City League championship with Wichita East and Kapaun Mt. Carmel.
“Going into the season,” said Northwest head coach Travis Stockam, “my expectations were very high. Then we go 0-3. But to go 16-1 in the last 17 games, and very easily could have gone 17-0…I mean that’s a pretty good turnaround after going 0-3.”
In Game 1, Carroll had the advantage going into the bottom of the seventh ahead 2-1, Northwest just three outs away from needing help to pick up a claim to the title.
With one out in the inning, Jared Gates picked the Grizzlies up with an RBI double to tie the game at 2-2. After plating the tying run, Northwest loaded the bases and had two outs with Austin Barnes at the plate. Barnes hit the ball hard and got a favorable hop off the lip of the infield grass that sent the ball into the outfield for an RBI base hit that ended the game at 3-2.
“Going into these games,” said Stockam, “Austin Barnes has our highest quality at-bats. So nobody knows that, and he’s hitting in the six or seven hole, and his swing looks a little different, but up to this point, he’s been our best quality at-bat guy. It was a good thing that he was coming to the plate.”
With a dramatic walk-off win putting the Grizzlies within one game of clinching a share of the league title, Northwest looked to senior captain Jacob Jones to take the mound and shut down the No. 1 5A team in the state.
Jones did not let his team down.
Speeding up an already explosive fastball with an enticing, yet unhittable changeup, Jones baited Carroll into being overly aggressive at the plate.
“They were trying to hit the ball out of the yard,” said Jones. “My changeup was doing good, so, I don’t know. I got lucky (the change) was doing good.”
In the first inning, Northwest fought off any possible emotional letdown after a walk off win with Jones swiftly retiring Carroll and then tacking on a couple of runs in the bottom half to keep the momentum going.
Garrison Lorenz brought in a run, grounding into a fielder’s choice at second to bring in a run. Jones helped his own cause with a two-out RBI single to give Northwest a 2-0 lead after the first inning.
From there, the game settled into a pitcher’s duel between jones and Jordan Miller from Carroll. In the second inning Carroll loaded the bases with two-outs, but couldn’t break Jones with the big hit. The Northwest hurler got out of trouble, preventing the game tying hit getting a fly ball out in foul territory outside of third base.
In the Grizzlies’ half of the second, Northwest was threatening with runners on second and third when Miller got Carroll out of trouble with a fly ball to centerfield.
Northwest couldn’t get the two-out hit in the second, but in the fourth, Drew Eaves gave the Grizzlies an opportune hit, scoring Barnes in a close play at the plate giving Northwest a 3-0 lead.
In the fifth, Carroll struck back with a leadoff triple from Tanner Palmore. Jones nearly worked his way out of the trouble, striking out the next two batters and then throwing a wild pitch to score Palmore before striking out his third batter of the inning.
With a 3-1 lead going into the seventh, 2 runs wasn’t the most comfortable lead for Jones, facing one of the most dangerous lineups in the state with a league championship on the line.
“My adrenaline was pumping,” said Jones. “I could feel my heart beating. I could feel it in my body. That’s kind of how I was against Kapaun too, just that extra umph you have to get in the last inning but, I was really motivated to just finish it.”
As solid as Jones had been throughout, he was in the seventh as well, keeping Carroll off the scoreboard to win, both a 3-1 game, and the league title.
“Last year we won a lot of games because of pitching and defense,” said Stockam. “And going into this season I thought the same thing, just if we could squeak a couple of runs over, we would have a chance to win every single game. That’s exactly what happened today.”