When the Class 4A Division I State Baseball Tournament begins on Thursday at Salina’s Dean Evans Stadium — unless it’s under water with all the rain we’ve been having — it will do so without the team ranked No. 1 much of the year.
McPherson High had occupied that top spot off and on throughout the season, mostly on. The Bullpups were coming off a 2015 season in which they finished second in the state, losing in the finals to Topeka Hayden. With a huge group of experienced seniors, they were expected to make a deep run at Salina in 2016.
But Buhler dashed those hopes last week with a wild 11-9 regional championship game victory at Grant Complex, a frustrating end to a 16-6 season. Bullpup coach Heath Gerstner knew he had a team that was state-worthy, but errors and an inordinate amount of walks led to the demise.
Buhler certainly has a team that’s capable of winning it all in the wide-open field. The Crusaders, who handed MHS two of its losses, have quality starting pitching and star power in Jace Williams, one of the state’s most feared hitters. It was his two-run single that proved to be the game-winner last week and he’d like nothing better than to close out his amazing Crusader athletic career with a state title.
The ending, though, shouldn’t take away from what this Bullpup team accomplished over the last two years. It put McPherson baseball back on the map, winning 33 games while losing only 14. It’s hard to believe that during the 2014 season the program was in turmoil, as a coaching move that showed promise at the start unraveled the first doubleheader into the season and the team finished just 7-14.
It was a group of seniors that led the way. Senior Night this season was quite extended since the Bullpups bid adieu to seven. Most of them had come up through the McPherson Baseball Association and stuck together through thick and thin.
This group also has been the core of back-to-back outstanding American Legion seasons in the summer. Post 24 won the Class A state title in 2014 and made it to the 2015 Class AAA championship game, losing a tough decision to Ottawa. I’m assuming most of those players will be continuing on this summer, so expect the program to maintain its high level.
The Bullpups will have a decidedly different look next year. The team’s bread and butter has been pitching, but Gerstner has to replace Micah McCulley, Marcus McDaniel and Caleb Schmidt, who logged a lot of innings in their careers. You have to wonder how the season might have been different had Schmidt not suffered a leg injury just after the halfway point. That weakened MHS’ plentiful depth and he had a lot of big-game experience.
The staff will now be led by Jack Reifschneider, who will be the unquestioned ace. Alex Kalkhorst had some good moments this season and Dylan Werries will certainly play a more prominent role. There are some younger pitchers who shined at the JV level who will be asked to continue that at the varsity level.
Of the everyday lineup, the infield should be OK. Werries and Mikey Savernio anchor the middle at short and second base, respectively. Casen Hoover spent a lot of time this year as a DH, but figures to play third. Wyatt Seidl, who powdered the ball at the JV level, could move in at first base.
Kalkhorst solidifies the infield at the catching spot. Reifschneider and Jeff Reed are virtual locks in the outfield. Alex Sitts and Gunnar Reiss certainly will make statements to play somewhere.
There are a number of players who were solid at the JV level who will get a shot at contributing. Trey Hanken and Zane Myers hit .383 and .381,respectively, to lead the team. The JVs nearly hit .300 as a team, so there will be no shortage of competition. There were a number of pitchers employed, so there’s no shortage of arms.
While the high expectations of this season didn’t pan out, don’t be surprised to see the Bullpups among the top teams again next year.