McPherson’s Junior American Legion baseball team was three outs away from an unlikely trip to state.
It could only get one.
Post 24 needed to win one of two games from the host Salina Hawks on Wednesday at Dean Evans Stadium, but suffered a season-ending, heart-breaking 5-4 loss in eight innings after losing the first game 15-4 as Salina scored 10 runs in the final inning to break it open.
What a Cinderella story this would have been. Post 24 was trying to qualify for state after going just 4-18 during the regular season. Salina entered Wednesday 27-10.
"The zone championship games were ones for the ages," McPherson coach Heath Gerstner said today as he took time to reflect on the summer. "And as their coach that made me super proud. The kids just absolutely competed all night against a darn-good Salina team."
McPherson improved light-years during the last six weeks even if the record didn't reflect it. After starting the season 2-1, Post 24 lost 17 of its next 19 games and was expected to be nothing more than a footnote in the zone tournament.
"I could probably talk an hour about how far each of these kids have come this summer," Gerstner said. "They all bought into getting better and it really showed this week making a Cinderella run to the championship game."
Gerstner said it was tough to see the season end since the team was playing its best baseball at the right time.
"When the game was over, I thanked each and every one of them for letting me coach them," he said. "I have been hard on them this summer and pushed some of them beyond their comfort zones and to see them play that well has been so rewarding."
Gerstner had some help as assistant coach Matt McCasland provided much input.
"Coach McCasland deserves a lot of credit as he has been there all summer and was patient and willing to work with them whenever I had to step away to be with family as we had our first child," Gerstner said. "At times this summer we weren't really excited for the future, but I can promise you this group will be fun to watch grow and develop the next few years."
The Senior Legion begins zone play this weekend in Great Bend, but several of the players on that team have completed their high school eligibility. That’s why Gerstner thought it was imperative this younger team show some progress this summer as many of these Junior players are going to have to step in and fill some of the holes.