BUHLER — What Heath Gerstner will remember most about his McPherson Junior American Legion baseball team this summer is its fight.
Post 24’s season came to an end on Saturday in the finals of the zone tournament. Needing a victory to stay alive, McPherson defeated Great Bend 10-7 to force a second, winner-take-all game, which the Braves won 12-3.
McPherson ended its season with a 20-9 record.
“First and foremost this was a group that was a blast to coach,” Gerstner said. “We had a bunch of selfless guys that were way more interested in the success of the team over their own personal success. As I left the field last night, I had such a sense of pride just knowing the growth the guys had made throughout summer and most importantly, slowly but surely they are maturing into great young men."
Gerstner thanked Great Bend for moving the game time as the teams were supposed to play at 9 a.m. But with McPherson having some of its players in Kansas City earlier in the day for 7-on-7 football, Great Bend agreed to move the games.
In the first game, Post 24 was behind 5-1 when it erupted for nine runs.
“We fell behind 5-1 and really felt like game was slipping away in the fourth inning, but our team always has some fight,” Gerstner said. “Our bottom of half of order was able to get on base and then our top guys started bunting and hitting some missiles and really quickly we had game tied and created a nine-run inning."
Gabe Hoover, who was one of those who played 7-on-7, had enough in the tank to start the game on the mound, with Brayden Stout pitching stellar relief.
“Gabe was exhausted and we brought in Brayden Stout and he did an outstanding job to finish the game once we got the large lead to earn the win,” Gestner said.
Shane Starkel drove in three runs, while Wiard and Jakob Feil drove in two apiece.
Right at the start of the second game, Gerstner and starting pitcher Chandler Wiard were ejected after one pitch due to a pitch-count controversy.
“We had our book and charts and they didn't match everyone else,” Gerstner said. “It all falls on my shoulders and I take the blame. I was not pleased how situation was handled, but it is what is it.”
Great Bend immediately scored four runs and while Post 24 pulled within 4-2 after five innings, the Braves scored eight runs over the final two innings.
“Game 2 definitely did not go the way we all envisioned it going,” Gerstner said. “Sometimes with baseball you get a curve ball and how you respond defines your team. We were thrown some adversity with Chandler and I getting ejected after one pitch and our guys did not sit and pout, but instead went and competed their butts off. The thing I love about this game is that we lost the game, but all our kids became better baseball players in the process. The amount of pressure situations they were put in throughout the championship game was outstanding and not easily created in practices or normal double headers."
All-in-all, it was a good summer Gerstner said.
“Future is bright for this young group who really are learning to play the game the right way.” Gerstner said. Most importantly they are learning to play for each other and you do not see that all the time."
• Game 1 •
McPherson (10) — J. Feil 2-2-1-2, Hoover 3-1-2-1, D. Feil 2-1-0-1, Starkel 3-1-2-3, Whittker 3-1-0-0, Hoppes 3-1-1-1, Wiard 4-1-1-2, Craig 2-0-1-0, Stout 2-0-0-0, Scott 2-2-0-0.
• Game 2 •
McPherson (3) — J. Feil 3-0-2-0, Hoover 3-0-1-2, D. Feil 4-0-1-0, Starkel 3-0-0-0, Whittker 3-0-0-0, Hoppes 3-1-1-0, Stout 3-0-1-0, Craig 3-2-2-1, Scott 3-0-1-0.