In a perfect world, the veteran members of the McPherson Senior American Legion baseball team would have ridden into the sunset with the Class AAA state championship trophy for a storybook ending.
But we all know we live in an imperfect world.
Post 24 completed its season on Saturday, unfortunately, with a whimper and not a bang. While all but two other teams in Kansas would have been happy with a third-place state finish, there will be somewhat of a sting associated with this tournament, the last for several team members.
McPherson lost 3-0 to eventual champion Ottawa, no-hit no less by Trenton Ferguson. That provided the emotional impetus for the Arrows to go on and win the championship for a second straight year under McPherson native and coach Brian Long. They had to defeat Chanute twice after losing to the Southeast Kansas team in the finals of the winner’s bracket.
“We just didn’t hit the ball,” McPherson coach Tony Schmidt said, noting there was great pitching on both sides. “You look up at the scoreboard and there’s 13 zeroes up there. We probably played our best defensive game of the year. We made all the plays.”
Schmidt in no way wanted to make excuses as he said his team couldn’t match the offensive prowess of Ottawa and Chanute in this tournament. But the fact of the matter was Post 24 had played a very late game on Friday night and used up a lot of energy in a thrilling 5-4 walk-off victory over arch-rival Salina to stay alive. Players and coaches got home after midnight, then had to be up just after 6 a.m. for a return trip for a 10 a.m. game.
“We weren’t going to get hotel rooms just to save an hour,” Schmidt said. “We were kind of dragging (Saturday morning). But that’s no excuse.”
Had McPherson stayed alive in the winner’s bracket with a second-round win over Chanute, things might have been different.
“We hit the ball hard that game, we hit a lot of shots right at them,” Schmidt said. “We pitched OK during the week, but we just didn’t hit the ball like we can.”
McPherson’s 3-2 record at state gave the team a 25-7 finish. That came on the heels of last year’s state runner-up finish and, of course, the team won the Class A title in 2014.
“Very, very proud of this team,” Schmidt said. “It’s been quite a run. These kids care so much about each other.”
For at least half the players on the team, it was the final go-around that basically started nearly 10 years ago in the McPherson Baseball Association. Pieces were added throughout the years, but it was a group whose common bond was that it loved the game.
“Win together, stay together,” Schmidt said. “We had a lot of team unity. And I couldn’t have done it without (assistant coach) Scotty Graham. He did so much for us and the kids loved him.”
Schmidt said the team being on the same page for so many years sometimes enabled it to defeat more-talented teams. It was built on “small ball,” pitching and defense as there were few hitters who knocked it out of the park. It ran the bases with reckless abandon, forcing the opposition into making mistakes. It was a fun team to watch from a fan’s standpoint.
This has been an unprecedented three-year run. The core group will be arguably the most successful in McPherson history, which translated over to the high school season. MHS was the state runner-up in 2015 and spent much of 2016 as the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A Division I before losing in the regional championship game to eventual state champion Buhler.
Schmidt said another key to the success was the backing and financial support of the local American Legion, including Jim LaDuke and Evan Stout, as well as Kendall Shaw in recent years. The Baseball Board of Directors that governed the organization are a loyal group that dedicates itself to making baseball better in McPherson.
“They’ve been awesome,” Schmidt said. “We couldn’t have done this without their support.”
The cupboard won’t be entirely bare next year and there’s some Junior Legion players who should move up to help. Whether the run can be continued next year will depend on the commitment and dedication of the younger players, who have a high bar to reach.