McPherson High’s turnaround baseball season can come full circle Tuesday when it competes in the Class 4A Division I regional hosted by Hays.
The Bullpups play the host Indians at 4 p.m. The prelude game pits Buhler against Ulysses at 2 p.m., as the field does not include a team with a losing record. MHS and Buhler are both 13-7, Ulysses is 11-7 and Hays is 9-9.
The championship game is set for approximately 6 p.m.
“It is a tough regional that without a doubt prepares any of the four teams for a run at state,” said MHS first-year coach Heath Gerstner, who has engineered a 180 for the program as the Bullpups won only seven games last year.
The Bullpups received the No. 1 seed after a coin flip, but perhaps not the more favorable draw. While Ulysses has a better record than Hays, it doesn’t play near the quality of competition.
“Hays has had a down year in their mind after graduating some great seniors, but I am very impressed with their junior group and team overall,” Gerstner said. “They started slow this spring, but their coaching staff really does a great job of developing kids and they are truly a different team this time of year. I know they will present a huge challenge for us and it will likely come down to who pitches and plays the best defense. Coaching at Junction City the past three seasons, we met up with Hays the past two years and have an idea of how they like to play the game. They play the game the right way and will battle you all day at the plate and will present our pitchers with a good challenge."
The consensus is if the Bullpups get past the tourney hosts, who will no doubt feed off their crowd, arch-rival Buhler would await in the finals. The Bullpups and Crusaders met earlier this year in Buhler with the teams swapping victories.
“We have seen Buhler and believe they are a state-caliber team as they are a very offensive team,” Gerstner said.
Gerstner added the Bullpups have been looking forward to this part of the season since Day One.
“We started the season with one goal and that being to get to Dean Evans (Stadium in Salina, site of the state tournament)," he said. "We believe if you can get to Dean Evans, anything can happen. This is what we have prepared for all season and I’m excited to see us go compete."
The Bullpups come in hitting .313 as a team, with Cody Starkel leading the way at a rarefied .466. Of his 21 hits, 13 have been for extra bases (nine doubles, two triples, two homers).
Marcus McDaniel (.418, 15 RBIs), Caleb Schmidt (.379) and Jacob Loecker (.333) all hit at least .300. Griffin Myers, who joins Starkel as the only seniors, tops the team in RBIs with 20 as he's hit in the clutch.
Micah McCulley tops the team with five wins (5-2), but Schmidt leads most of the other categories, including innings (41.2) and strikeouts (27). He probably deserved a better fate than a 3-2 record as he had a couple of no-decisions in games he was superb. He had only one bad outing (Maize South), which sent his ERA soaring from the mid 1.5s to eventually finish at 3.19.
McDaniel (2-2, one save, 2.59 ERA) is the bullpen ace, while Loecker and Jack Reifschneider can give the Bullpups some innings if need be.