Maybe it’s not quite as important as making the high school state tournament, but it’s certainly close.
For the third straight year McPherson’s Senior American Legion baseball team has advanced to state, where it has made the championship game in each of the last two years.
Of course, McPherson ended a 40-year state championship drought in 2014 by winning the Class A title. Moving up to Class AAA last year, Post 24 was the lone undefeated team through three rounds at the state tournament at Grant Complex, but Ottawa roared back through the loser’s bracket to dash the hopes of a repeat.
Making state on Monday was somewhat vindication for McPherson, which lost in the regional championship game during the high school season this past spring to Buhler, which went on to roar to the state title the following week in Salina. MHS had made the Class 4A Division I state finals in 2015, losing to No. 1-ranked Topeka Hayden.
After a rather bizarre-and-confusing zone tournament, Post 24 is back where it belongs when it competes next week right back at Great Bend.
The confusing part occurred when it was announced that expected state host Garden City had to end up declining, reportedly because of logistics problems.
Stepping in as host was Great Bend. By serving as state host, it received an automatic berth in the tournament.
McPherson pounded Great Bend 14-2 in a four-inning opener on Sunday, then knocked off Garden City 6-1 on Monday.
Then came the waiting game.
Garden City thus had to turn around and play Great Bend in the wilting 100-degree temperatures. Garden City, which had entered the tournament 26-2, apparently didn’t have much left in the tank and lost 10-4.
Because McPherson and Great Bend were already assured of advancing, there was no need to play a meaningless game and McPherson coach Tony Schmidt said he was advised by tourney officials to go on home. Ironically, however, The Great Bend Tribune reported today the Chiefs hoisted the trophy after beating Garden City since Post 24 departed town.
“We would have preferred to finish, but it is what it is," Great Bend coach Roger Ward said to The Tribune.
Schmidt, taking a level-headed approach, said there was no point to risk injuries to players on either side. Had Great Bend defeated McPherson in the championship game, a second game would have been needed on Tuesday since it was just McPherson’s first loss. And as Schmidt said there was no point — considering the heat and the fact both teams had advanced — to waste time with a game or two that had no bearing.
The same situation came up last year at Newton and the tournament was truncated. Newton had come back through the loser’s bracket to make the finals to face McPherson and since McPherson was serving as the state host, it again would have been meaningless to play the game, or two had Newton won the first championship game.
Schmidt is just happy his team gets another shot at a state title. The core group of this team has been together for nearly a decade, getting its start in the McPherson Baseball Association. And after the high school disappointment in May, it’s a chance for redemption.
Post 24, 22-5 this summer, has to be one of the favorites. It has a deep pitching staff that can survive an early-round loss and it’s been enhanced with the return of Jack Reifschneider, who dazzled Garden City on Monday with a three-hit, nine-strikeout beauty. Few teams next week will have the pitching staff length of Post 24.
Offensively, McPherson has been an up-and-down team, though the 20 runs it scored in the two zone games was a good sign. Casen Hoover went yard in both games and Cody Starkel had a grand slam. Hoover and Starkel both hit homers in a nine-run first inning against Great Bend.
Most of all, though, this is a veteran team that has been regulars in the Legion spotlight. And knowing it’s the last time together for most, I’m sure its run at state will be spirited.