SALINA — The so-called “book” on McPherson High pitcher Micah McCulley is that if you don’t get to him early, you don’t get to him at all.
Sure enough in Sunday’s Class 4A Division I State Baseball Tournament opener against Ottawa at Dean Evans Stadium, the Cyclones put the first two runners on base. But McCully was able to tiptoe around the land mines unscathed.
In the second inning, the Cyclones again put two runners on base, but McCulley’s defense made a couple of sparkling plays behind him to keep Ottawa at bay.
From there, McCulley was on cruise control.
He permitted a measly two hits over the final five innings and finished with a five-hit shutout in a virtuoso performance as the Bullpups advanced to today’s semifinals with a 4-0 victory.
It’s turned into an AVCTL Division III block party as MHS plays league rival Rose Hill sometime just after noon today, while fellow D-III member Augusta takes on prohibitive favorite and uninvited party guest Topeka Hayden at 10:00 this morning.
McPherson and Rose Hill met earlier this season, with the Bullpups sweeping two well-pitched and low-scoring games, 4-1 and 1-0.
McCulley was poised from his first pitch, walking just one and fanning seven to improve to 7-2 on the season. He threw only 86 pitches, a far cry from his early season performances when he would labor to get through five innings. His defense was lights-out as the Bullpups did not commit an error and made all the routine plays look, well routine.
“Our brand of baseball is going to start with pitching and defense,” first-year MHS coach Heath Gerstner said after the Bullpups improved to 16-7.
McCulley allowed one baserunner in three of the final four innings and was not taxed as Ottawa came out swinging.
“I was excited about his start,” Gerstner said. “He was amped up at the start and I was trying to calm him down. He has done just an excellent job of progressing. He’s a guy who gets 1 percent better every single day. And he buys into what we talk about.”
Ottawa’s heralded ace lefty Sam Carver pitched well himself. The Coffeyville Community College signee scattered six hits and just two of the four runs he allowed were earned. He walked only two, fanned five and held his pitch count to 79. While he was good, McCulley was just better.
MHS played its typical pesky brand of “small ball,” keeping the pressure on Ottawa’s defense. It pushed across a run in the third inning as Dylan Werries scored from the No. 9 hole, then the Bullpups put three runs up on the board in the fourth, with key hits by Marcus McDaniel, Casen Hoover and Jacob Loecker. MHS ran the bases with no fear — remember, there is no ‘fear’ in McPherson — and while a couple of runners were thrown out trying to make something happen, that was OK in Gerstner’s book.
“That (aggressive) is what we want to be,” Gerstner said. “We understand we will get thrown out once in a while. In fact my motto is if we haven’t been thrown out we’re not running enough.”
Loecker had two hits and an RBI for the Bullpups from the No. 7 spot in the order as Gerstner likes the fact there are no gimmes in the MHS lineup. Any player from 1 to 9 can do damage.
Rose Hill showed some mental toughness in its game against No. 2 seed Fort Scott to pull off the upset. The Rockets led 4-1 going into the seventh, but the Tigers charged back to force extra innings. However, Rose Hill eventually pushed across a run in the 10th for the victory.
Gerstner is hoping the Rockets exhausted a lot of physical and mental energy in that game. They did have to go three-deep into their pitching staff.
“Great team, I really like their team,” Gerstner said of the Rockets. “They’re really young. They’re probably an aggressive team because they’re so young. They’re going to come right at us on the mound. I thought both games we played with them the first time could have gone either way.”
The Bullpups will send out Caleb Schmidt and still have McDaniel fresh.
It was announced Monday that after the two semifinal games, no third-place game will be played. The championship game will be played 30 minutes after the MHS-Rose Hill game.
MHS (4) — Starkel 3-0-1-0, Reed 0-0-0-0, Schmidt 3-0-0-0, McDaniel 3-1-1-0, Hoover 3-1-1-0, McCulley 3-1-0-1, Myers 2-0-0-1, Loecker 3-0-2-1, Saverino 2-0-0-0, Werries 3-1-1-0, Reifschneider 0-0-0-0.
• SCHEDULE •
Topeka Hayden 1, Miege 0
Augusta 13, Kansas City Piper 1
Rose Hill 5, Fort Scott 4, 10 innings
McPherson 4, Ottawa 0
10:00 — Topeka Hayden vs. Augusta
Noon — McPherson vs. Rose Hill
2:00 — Championship Game
• Note — No third-place game is going to be played