Youthful athleticism or elder experience; it makes no difference when the state tournament rolls around. The 3A state baseball tournament in Manhattan was the epitome of unpredictable and the uncertainty that any inning can make or break a state champion.
Humboldt Panthers vs. Wichita Independent
The young Wichita Independent baseball team fell to the Humboldt Cubs 2-1.
The Cubs took a quick lead as they jumped ahead in the first inning. Junior Nathan Whitcomb slammed a hit up the middle to bring in sophomore Hunter Murrow for the first score.
The top of the third inning was time for retaliation. After a Trey Williams triple, junior Ben Strickfaden connected with a grounder to the second baseman. Although out at first, he earned the RBI and tied the score at one run each. Despite tying the score, Panthers head coach Jamie Fowler said the energy in the dugout was still lacking.
“When you are not playing to your potential you get a little tight,” he said. “Early on we were not aggressive and I think that’s what cost us.”
It did. The momentum shifted again in Humboldt’s favor in the fourth. Morrow earned an RBI off a solid hit to left center giving the Cubs the lead 2-1.
The Panthers had the opportunity to come back in the seventh inning. With runners on first and second Scott Spiker drove a line drive up the middle and into centerfield. Fowler sent Dominic Rudy home to tie the score. It was unsuccessful.
“The second half of the game we did OK,” Fowler said. “They had the momentum early but we put some things together in the seventh inning. We got the single we wanted and the mindset from there was they needed to make a play to beat us. If it was earlier in the season I probably wouldn’t have sent him. But three hits on the game, we had an opportunity and made them make a play.”
The Panthers couldn’t pull through and fell 2-1 to the Cubs. They only lose one senior next year and with a roster packed with youth, Fowler is optimistic they will be back to state again.
“I told my guys they have to learn from this,” he said. “Next time we will be more aggressive and get after it.”
Hays Thomas More Prep vs. Wellsville
The senior-packed Thomas More Prep would not make its usual heroic comeback and lost to the Wellsville Eagles 9-7. The most action came in the first inning. TMP Junior Nick Hammeke took the mound but immediately was pounded with hits. Six powerful hits and six earned runs just started off the top of the first for the Eagles.
“All season long Nick has more or less dominated on the mound,” TMP head coach Brian Schumacher said. “It definitely shocked us the way they came out and I give a lot of credit to Wellsville. They hit the ball well and we had a couple of mistakes and they took advantage of them.”
But the Monarchs had a few comeback tricks up their sleeves too. They came out in the bottom of the first inning and closed the gap with five earned runs. Heading into the second inning the score was already 6-5 but don’t get too excited that was the highest scoring inning of the game.
The Eagles scored two more runs in the second and TMP only retaliated with one.
“Giving up six runs in the first inning is hard to come back from,” Schumacher said. “I thought we were going to do that scoring five and keeping it close. All season long we’ve been doing it and tonight it just didn’t go our way.”
Despite being the comeback kings, the TMP Monarchs could not close the gap and regain the momentum lost in the first inning. The Eagles would only earn one more run in the sixth and the Monarchs would score their last in seventh. The Monarchs fell 9-7.
“It’s hard to end like this,” Schumacher said. “We were state runner-up two years before and high expectations on this season and then to fall short like we did is tough. But later when they look back on their career at TMP they are going to realize it was probably one of the better classes that we have ever had.”
Now with ten seniors leaving next year, TMP will have to rebuild their winning legacy. Schumacher said he is not worried.
“We’ve got a good underclassman group,” he said. “We had a 16-5 record with their junior varsity playing mainly bigger schools. We will have some guys that will fill in their shoes and hopefully they step up and do a good job for us.”
Salina Sacred Heart vs. Rock Creek
Who comes back from five shutout innings to dominate a state baseball game 8-1? The Sacred Heart Knights as they battled with Rock Creek in the first round of the 3A baseball tournament. Rock Creek had the upper hand early. The Mustangs get their first run in the bottom of the third and it would be their last. They continued to shut down the Knights keeping them scoreless through the fifth inning. The sixth inning, on the other hand, was a completely different story. A new, more aggressive Sacred Heart team took over home plate. Knights’ head coach Brad Dix said he was not surprised by their sudden dominance.
“This is the way they have been playing all year,” he said. “The three games in regionals were the exact same way. We came out and said, ‘Hey, this is kind of like déjà vu and we’ve been here before.’ We just needed to have great at bats like we know how to one guy at a time.”
Sacred Heart certainly stepped up to plate and took control. The Knights earned three runs in the sixth. After shutting out the Mustangs during their at bat, the Knights returned in the top of the seventh with five runs. It seemed like their offensive drive was endless.
“Most of the credit has to go to Daniel O’Brien,” Dix said. “He threw one heck of a game. This has been three outings in a row where he has just been out there and been our gun. The guy doesn’t get shook up. He’s a bulldog and he threw some great stuff. They had him on the ropes and I don’t even think he had a visit.”
The Mustangs would not score and the Knights sealed the game 8-1. Sacred Heart will advance to take on Wellsville in the semi-finals on Saturday.
“We’ve watched them a bit today and we’ve talked to some other guys about them,” Dix said about getting ready for Wellsville. “They are a great club and they are well coached. We will have all we want but that’s the way it should be in a state tournament. We know we have to take it one pitch at a time and see what happens.”
In the semi-finals, Frontenac will face Humboldt Saturday at 10 a.m. and Salina Sacred Heart will take on Wellsville at 12:30 p.m. The winners of those games will play for the State Championship at 5:30 p.m. at the Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan.